With one last game of their road trip ahead of them, the Jackets took the ice in LA still mired in uncertainty, and with more questions than answers about how the second half of the season might unfold.
Despite that, even though the team came away with a loss, making them 0-4 to start 2011, there were some encouraging signs to take away from how the game ended.
With Steve Mason dealing with a minor injury sustained in the loss to Anaheim, Mathieu Garon was given the start, and unfortunately showed that while he has his moments as a reliever, he has his own issues in net that prevent him from being a reliable starting goaltender.
A little over two minutes into the game, Drew Doughty made a great move to carry the puck up ice from his own end, then made a good pass on entering the zone to Anze Kopitar. Kopitar took the puck left and got the defense (and Garon) to bite on the move, then made a fast backwards pass to Dustin Brown, who fired it in past Garon to open the scoring.
The Jackets would have a few chances on Jon Quick, but no answers in the first period, while LA collected two more goals - one a power play shot redirected by Alec Martinez, and the other a passing play from Drew Doughty to Jarret Stoll, and Stoll took the pass and fired a quick shot as Garon tried to move across the crease.
(Actually, cross-crease movement, now that I look at it, may be Garon's biggest weakness. It seems like a lot of the goals scored on him do come from plays where a quick lateral pass sets up the shooter...)
The Kings would get another goal on a shorthanded rush by Stoll, his second of the night, thanks to a long clearing pass through a Jackets' line change that Stoll and Drew Doughty were able to grab at the Jackets' blue line and charge in on a suddenly vulnerable Kris Russell.
Down 4-0, the Jackets might have been expected to simply disappear, but suddenly they discovered that perhaps this was a hockey game after all, and it was Matt Calvert who reminded them.
Making a bit of a fluke play, he intercepted a cross ice pass from Dustin Brown in the Kings' zone and performed a poke check that sent the puck slowly sliding back at the Kings' net. Quick came out to play the puck at the top of his crease, whiffed, and the puck gracefully sailed into the goal for Calvert's first NHL goal - one that was likely made even more memorable by getting to watch it on video review a few times before the War Room confirmed the puck had indeed fully crossed the line before Quick was able to grab it.
With a bit more steam in the locker room coming out for the third period, the Jackets started to attack the net with more confidence - Anton Stralman would make a good outlet pass from the zone to Jakub Voracek, and Jake fed the puck to Rick Nash on an on-ice rush before Nash circled behind the net and caught Quick out of position, firing the puck into the open side of the cage to bring the Jackets within two.
Then, a few minutes later with the teams 4 on 4, R.J. Umberger would get the puck into the Kings' zone, chip the puck to Antoine Vermette down in the low corner, and Vermette would find Fedor Tyutin pinching into the slot, and set up a quick bang-bang play of his own, feeding the Russian D-man, who roofed the puck into the net.
The Kings would respond late to take a 5-3 lead on a misplayed puck by Garon - Ryan Smyth took a shot as he went from the boards to the crease, Mathieu Garon attempted to glove it down and instead kicked it into the slot, and Smyth was able to redirect it into the net even as Marc Methot knocked him to the ice.
Yet, somehow, the Jackets came back again - this time a combination between Kris Russell bouncing the puck deep from within the Jackets' zone up to Voracek at the Kings' blue line, who took a shot that Quick sent back out on a rebound, and pounced on it before Quick could move out to play the puck out of trouble. Curling back, Voracek sent the puck to Rick Nash as he came in off the boards, and he fired into a scrum around the net to pull the Jackets back within one.
With the net empty and the Jackets buzzing like hornets, it seemed like they might even tie up the game, but a blatant high stick from Willie Mitchell on Nash went uncalled, to the furious reaction of Scott Arniel, and Justin Williams was eventually able to grab an empty net goal to seal the game.
Full credit to Scott Arneil, however, who lit up the refs (and anyone else with the ability to lip read) in a furious tirade that had to be music to the ears of the bench, given that probably for the first time in a week, he wasn't directing his frustration at them. It also likely helped to remind the players that despite the current situation, their coach still has their backs against the world.
If we were going just by the second half of this game, the Jackets probably deserved a win, but unfortunately they dug the hole too deep early, and it cost them. Still, it's at least signs of life that haven't been obvious for much of this week, and I'll take what I can get.
- Matt Calvert - His first NHL goal may have been about as strange as they come, but he earned it the hard way - his speed and aggressive defense earned him some decent ice time, and I suspect it will only increase.
- Rick Nash - In addition to his two goals, Nash had 9 shots on net and really seemed to be pushing hard tonight. A good effort and hopefully one we see continue going forward.
- Jakub Voracek - I have not been kind to Jake in some of the games of late, and he really showed some good hustle and opportunistic moves tonight. Tonight felt like something closer to his performances of the last two years than the...unreliable...efforts of this season so far.
- Scott Arniel - Standing up for his players on the bench and in the press conference, I think firing his team up and building more of an "Us against the World" attitude might not be a bad idea at all.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Mathieu Garon - Sorry, man, but a couple of the goals, particularly Smyth's goal, were beyond soft. Possibly into the realm of "drinkified".
- Kristian Huselius - Speaking of players in the doghouse...Juice played all of ten minutes last night. I get the feeling he was on the receiving end of another benching. Say, I hear Brian Burke wants a top 6 forward...
- Special Teams - The shorthanded goal was, at least, mostly due to a fluke pass that went straight through the skates of players coming on and off for the line change, but the power play goals LA scored were painful - the PK didn't seem to be able to break up any passes.
The fact that the team did rally, even if the game ended up in a loss, encourages me, and I'm hoping to see it carry over. Matt Calvert is doing exactly what the team needs him to, and I think he's had a good start with the fourth line - I do wonder, though, if it would be worth giving him some time up in the top 6 to see if that might bear greater fruit. It seems almost certain that one way or another, the Blue Jackets' lineup is going to be shaken up before their next game. The team will travel back to Columbus today, and we'll see if Scott Howson can bring something else to fruition before Tuesday's rematch with the Coyotes at Nationwide.