Game 22: False Hopes

Strong defensive play.

An early goal. 

It all started so well.

So, what went wrong?

Some of these recaps are harder to write than others - this certainly qualifies.

The Jackets came out, and it looked like a replay of Friday's game - not the least because of the Jackets wearing their new uniforms, with Detroit's permission, so the Wings remained in their road whites. Both teams had some good scoring chances that Jimmy Howard and Steve Mason turned aside, but the Jackets dominated physical play, including a punishing hit by Kris Russell on Pavel Datsyuk.

Neither team found traction on the scoreboard, however, until late in the first period, when the Jackets first found themselves down a man on a boarding call against Antoine Vermette, and then even again at 4 on 4 after Henrik Zetterberg went to the box on a hooking call.

Rick Nash collected a puck off a rebound in his own zone and charged in, attacking Howard at the doorstep, but the rebound went into the corner. Collecting the puck, Nash made a good play to Jan Hejda, who sent the puck to Anton Stralman. Stralman fired at the net, and Derick Brassard was there to sweep the rebound past Howard for a 1-0 lead that the Jackets would take into the dressing room for the end of the first period.

For the next ten minutes, though Detroit applied pressure, the Jackets held their ground, but the warning signs began when a power play for goalie interference on Justin Abdelkader became a 4 on 4 again after a bad interference penalty from Anton Stralman - the defenseman got trapped in the puck and ran out of room to make a pass, turned the puck over, and was forced to take his man to the ice to prevent a shorthanded rush.

Just as the Detroit power play was about to expire, R.J. Umberger attempted to clear, poking the puck off Datsyuk's stick, but Kronwall would recover the loose puck and curl down along the boards before passing back to Datsyuk, then came along the edge of the net and took a return pass that he was able to bang past Mason on a stuff-in job when Hejda was unable to intercept the puck down low.

1-1 would have been a frustrating, but acceptable situation, but instead the Jackets collapsed inward. Seconds after the ensuing faceoff, the Jackets lost the draw and allowed Darren Helm, Patrick Eaves, and Drew Miller to walk in unchallenged on Mason, getting the puck along the back boards and Helm fired from the bottom of the faceoff circle. Mason attempted to get his stick up to block the shot, but the puck rode the edge of the goalie stick, caromed off his elbow pad, and into the net.

Bad luck, and worse timing - the Jackets had surrendered their lead in all of 14 seconds.

The Jackets bucked up a bit after Fedor Tyutin went to the box on a roughing call (to be honest, I'm not sure why, as he was penalized during a commercial break), but the team pushed back, even earning another power play at the end of the period, but they were once again unable to convert. 

2-1 might have been recoverable. Unfortunately, the team opened the third period in a tailspin. Filppula, Franzen, and Bertuzzi would charge into the Jackets' zone, catching the Jackets on a line change a minute into the period. Mason attempted to cut off the shot, but Anton Stralman went to the boards to try to cut off Bertuzzi on the far end rather than getting into the way of the actual puck carrier, so Franzen faked a shot and made a late pass to Filppula, who beat Mason as he tried to adjust to the shooter.

From there, the team lost their momentum. Detroit was out drawing and outskating them, and it would take a horrific high-stick to Mike Commodore from Filppula to get any sense of life back into the team. 

As the big #22 went to the locker room for stitches over his right eye and nose, dizzied and clearly in pain, the Jackets received a double-minor, and they utterly failed to do anything with it, even when Kronwall was kind enough to remove himself, giving the team a full two minutes of 5-on-3 time. 

The power play continually failed to set up and generate pressure, in particular the points, where too many passes were let slip through into the neutral zone, or defensemen (particularly Stralman) failed to shoot, or hesitated and had their ice taken away from them by the Wings' PK.

The game was practically over after the successful five on three kill, and the crowd certainly responded so, but there was another glimmer - a faint shine of hope when the Jackets received another late power play, and this time, with Mason pulled and less than two minutes to go in the game, Jake Voracek got a pass through to Antoine Vermette, who fired at the net from just above the high slot, and R.J. Umberger was able to tip the puck past Howard at the top of the crease.

With the lead cut to 3-2, the Jackets pulled Mason again, but Anton Stralman would make another critical error, turning the puck over to Pavel Datsyuk at the Wings' blue line, and once he got the puck up to Danny Cleary with open ice, it was over. Cleary banked a shot off the Joes' active boards that Brassard was unable to get in front of, and it sailed into the empty net.

Final Score: Jackets lose, 4-2.

Standard Bearers:

The First Period - The team came out EXACTLY as they needed to.

Steve Mason - Mase should be downright pissed off at his team tonight, particularly the defense. Every goal scored against him started as a major defensive breakdown or turnover. Mason faced 41 shots tonight, 32 of them in the first two periods. He played heroically in this loss, and deserved better.

Bottom Of The Barrel:

Anton Stralman - Remember those major defensive breakdowns? It seems like, with the exception of the power play goal that he was just coming out of the penalty box for, Stralman had a role in each one. It could be forgiven if he'd racked up a few more points tonight, but his one assist was more about a bit of luck and Brassard's awareness than anything I can give Stralman credit for. He's hesistant, and making a lot of mistakes under pressure. If I had a choice of who to sit when Marc Methot comes back, Stralman is at the top of my list.

Rick Nash - I'm sorry, were you here tonight? If Nash's groin is the reason he's been so invisible the last two games, then sit him and get him fully healthy. If it's not, then get him moving. Nash didn't even register an official shot tonight - though I admit he probably had a few unofficial ones.

Bob Boughner - Bob, you were brought in to work with the forwards, and coach the power play. I respect what you've done in Windsor, but right now? You are not looking terribly effective as an NHL level assistant coach, given your two areas of responsibility are the areas that keep struggling.

Power Play - I don't even have words for the frustration. 

Some of these recaps are easier to write than others. This one was easy, but for all the wrong reasons. That's four points the team gave up to a divisional opponent this weekend. I dearly hope we don't look back at this set of games in March and wish we had those points back.

The Jackets will have two days off before facing the Nashville Predators on Wednesday at Nationwide Arena. The puck drops at 7pm.

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