After far, far too long, it was time to tune into George and Bob on the radio (or on your computer, if you're like me and couldn't get 1460 reception to come in worth squat last night) and hear the Jackets coming left to right across your radio dial.
Sending a squad that contained only 5 players with NHL experience - one of them goaltender Mathieu Garon, against an Atlanta roster featuring starting goalender Ondrej Pavelic, sophomore star Evander Kane, Bryan Little, and several recent acquisitions from the Blackhawks, including Ben Eager and Akim Aliu, the Jackets were, on paper, probably outgunned.
Good thing nobody told them that.
The Jackets came out with hard forechecking and racing after pucks. It's hard to judge things entirely by the radio, but you could hear more than a few hits over the radio that sounded like the boys weren't shy about throwing their bodies around.
Just past the 5:45 mark of the first period, Jonathan Sigalet would unleash a point shot that beat Pavelic for the opening goal. Originally the goal was credited to Kyle Wilson for a redirect, but later reviews put credit where it was due. Your assists were from Tom Sestito and the aforementioned Wilson. Keep them in mind.
Less than a minute later, the Jackets were right back at Pavelic's doorstep, and Sestito made a pass across the Atlanta crease to Mike Blunden, who tapped in the 2-0 lead at 6:14. Wilson would be credited with the second assist, giving him and Sestito a 2 point night.
The rest of the first period involved several decent chances for both teams, but Garon and Pavelic kept things steady. We had a little excitement when Mike Commodore took exception to a late hit by Atlanta's Derick Paquette, dropping the gloves for the single fight of the night, but both teams soldiered on until Matt Calvert took a boarding call with a little less than 5 minutes to go in the period.
With both Calvert and Commodore in the box, the PK had difficulty clearing the zone, and Bryan Little was able to get a bouncing wrister past Garon. The radio guys described it as "an unlucky bounce" off Garon, so I'm guessing it probably took a hop off his equipment and into the back of the net.
The Jackets would step right back up, though, keeping Atlanta from recovering any more momentum through the end of the first period, and coming out flying in the second with a goal just over a minute in from Traverse City invite Oliver Gabriel, who continues to impress with his speed and his scoring ability.
Despite a parade to the penalty box from both sides, neither team could convert on the PP, and it sounded like the Jackets' PK was doing a much better job of clearing the zone and breaking up entry this period - despite three power play opportunities, the Thrashers only managed 5 shots on goal for the entire period.
At about the halfway mark of the second period, Columbus took advantage of the scheduled TV timeout (despite no TV coverage) to swap Garon with David LeNeveu for the remainder of the game, but Atlanta couldn't get anything past him before he had shaken the rust off.
Going into the third with a 3-1 lead, the Jackets put the skate down hard. Matt Calvert would stretch the lead to 4-1 by redirecting a slapshot from Nate Guenin, who also had an assist on the Gabriel goal, and the Jackets would get several more "near miss" opportunities on Pavelic before the Thrashers Fredrik Pettersson finally gave the Thrashers a little hope after cleaning up a bad rebound off LeNeveu's pads and shooting into a wide open net for a 4-2 game with a little less than 7 minutes to go.
However, the Jackets would find themselves back on the man advantage after Spencer Machacek was sent to the box, and Tom Sestito, POWER FORWARD(?), drove to the net after grabbing a good setup from Blunden and Guenin and beat Pavelic with a quick wrister to restore the 3 goal lead.
From there, Atlanta would get one more powerplay opportunity thanks to Commodore going back to the box, but LeNeveu turned away the rest of the rubber Atlanta had to send his way, and the Jackets would skate away with the first victory of the (pre) season, 5-2.
Tommy Sestito, where has this been? The big guy mostly known in Columbus and Syracuse for his fighting ability had a huge night, with no fisticuffs to be seen. (Though I have to admit I was rooting for him to sneak in the full Gordie Howe after he scored in the third.) Sestito's a guy on the bubble, and it's clear he stepped up for this game.
Nate Guenin - I'll be honest, I didn't expect that much from Guenin coming into camp, but with a three point night and over 20 minutes of ice time, I'm impressed! If he keeps playing like this for the next few weeks, I'd expect him to fly to Sweden as part of the expanded roster, and possibly to get a look at the NHL while Kris Russell is recovering from his sprained knee.
The Kids Are Alright - Oliver Gabriel, Matt Calvert, Kyle Wilson, and Mike Blunden all had great games. Jon Sigalet, too, but I'm not sure he counts as a kid anymore. :) All in all, a very promising game for this squad. I think Gabriel's performance since he was given an ATO for prospect camp and Traverse City has been particularly impressive. Sign this kid to an entry level, Howson. Don't let him go back to the draft pool!
Bottom of the Barrel:
Andrew Murray - Tonight was something of an audition for the fourth line, with guys like MacKenzie, Blunden, Calvert, Murray, and Guite all dressing. Murray didn't do anything bad (0 PIMS, +/- 0), but he didn't really do anything good in his 15 minutes of ice time, either. (0G, 0A, 0 SOG, 1 hit). He's playing for his job right now, and based on this first game, he may find himself getting outworked.
Ben Guite - He didn't look that solid in camp to me, and he was -1 with no shots on goal tonight despite getting more ice time than guys like Calvert, Sestito, and Gabriel. Even if he was mostly playing a checking role, not a great night.
2 Minutes, Feel Shame: Though Atlanta's PP didn't really do much tonight, the Jackets still gave them 7 man advantage situations to work with. Great job by the PK in shutting them down, but if they hadn't been on the ball, we could easily have been talking about this game going the other way because of too many penalties. Get it out of your systems and settle down, guys!
Still, of those are the worst things I have to talk about? We're talking about a good game for the Jackets.