Game 4 Recap: So Close, And Yet...

With tonight's game against the Avalanche blacked out on TV, I and several other local bloggers (Greg of Full Mental Jackets, Alison of Heart of a Jacket, and Mr. Dark Blue Jacket himself) decided it would be a lot of fun to go together - especially since DBJ used black seatgeek magic to get us tickets right behind the Jackets' bench!

What we got was, in many ways, a very good game to go to, but continued the same frustrating song we've heard so far this season - especially since tonight the Jackets could rightfully be accused of playing a 47 minute game.

In the first period, the Jackets had some initial pressure, which ebbed slightly after a Derek Dorsett / Cody McLeod fight (and despite being about 25 feet away when it started, I couldn't tell you why it happened), then picked up the first of three power plays in the opening frame. Though the Jackets could not convert (and are still waiting for that first power play goal in the regular season), they put strong pressure on Semyon Varlamov, and at times seemed right on the edge of breaking through.

Unfortunately, the first goal would not to a Jacket, but to T.J. Galiardi, cleaning up a rebound after Steve Mason made the initial save on a Ryan O'Byrne shot and popping it over the netminder's shoulder with a mess of traffic in front.

Going scoreless through the rest of the first frame despite another Colorado penalty and a late PK after Dorsett was boxed for interference, the Jackets tied things up early in the second when Rick Nash tore the puck away from Jay McClement, caught his own rebound after Varlamov made the initial save, and then popped the puck home over the sprawling netminder's legs.

Energized by the goal, the Jackets increased their pressure (and had a couple near misses off the crossbar and far post), hammering Varlamov for 18 more shots, but found themselves still tied at the end of two after seeing their only power play of the second period negated by a Vinny Prospal high stick.

Despite a slight bit of apprehension, the Jackets seemed to be doing a great job of controlling the flow of play and negating a great deal of Colorado's speed advantage, particularly the checking line of Dorsett, Pahlsson, and MacKenzie, who also were a key portion of the PK.

In the third, the Jackets once again struck early (and if I'm honest, I was still on my way back to my seat after another intermission Tweetup) when Rick Nash cycled the puck down low to Vinny Prospal at the back of the boards, and Prospal found Radek Martinek at the top of the right faceoff dot, who unloaded a 1 timer into the top shelf for the 2-1 lead.

Unfortunately, that's where things started to go wrong.

Less than 30 seconds later, the Jackets would be 4 on 4 after Ryan O'Byrne was called for interference while Derick Brassard was given a diving call (from what I saw the dive seemed marginal, but I will admit that I did not have the best view), and worst, the team was forced to go 4 on 3 after Matt Calvert was sent off a few seconds later for a hook.

Though the Jackets killed both penalties, it was the Avalanche who drew strength from the opportunities rather than the Jackets gaining momentum from the kill, and the Avs would dominate the period, denying Columbus any additional shots on goal. In the final two minutes of play the Avs would pull Varlamov for the extra attacker, and the Jackets collapsed too far in around Mason, too concerned with making a mistake than moving the puck up or capitalizing on the empty net, and it would be former Jacket Jan Hejda who unloaded a bullet of a point shot that Gabriel Landeskog was able to redirect in front of the crease for his first NHL goal with just 40 seconds left in regulation.

The OT was unsatisfying, with neither team really able to set up, and both netminders turning away the few chances they saw, so the game was headed to a shootout.

Right off the bat Scott Arniel sent out Rick Nash, who came in and fired a brutal wrister that Varlamov was unable to stop, but the Avalanche replied with Milan Hejduk, who responded in kind by using a stutter move to beat Mason low after taking him off the angle.

Vinny Prospal was unable to convert on his attempt, while Matt Duchene came in with a similar move to adjust his speed. 

Finally, Jeff Carter came in, looking to keep the Jackets alive, and Varlamov made an insane stretch to cover Carter's stuff attempt, sealing the win and leaving the Jackets with their first point of the year, but an unsatisfying loss.

Standard Bearers:

  • Rick Nash / Jeff Carter / Vinny Prospal: After tonight's goal and assists, the top line is 4-8-12 on the season. 
  • Steve Mason - OK, this will be unpopular, but let's lay this out. Yes, Mason got beat for the first period goal. Yes, he got beat late. Yes, he lost in the shootout. But he made some excellent stops in the second period, kept the lid on for 15 of 16 shots in the third period, rebounded in OT after a disappointing tying goal, and frankly should have an expectation of his team getting him some offensive support in a one goal game instead of laying back and taking it like a Boy Scout for 25 minutes. 
  • Derek Dorsett / Sammy Pahlsson / Marc Methot / Radek Martinek - The primary PK unit not only did excellent work under trying circumstances (particularly the 4 on 3), but kept a clean sheet for the first time this season - a welcome improvement!
  • Great Seats with Good Friends - Win or lose, a game is always better with friends...but it really doesn't hurt to get amazing seats, either. :)

Bottom Of The Barrel:

  • Antoine Vermette / R.J. Umberger / Derick Brassard - In a year where R.J. was handed a contract extension and both Brassard and Vermette were expected to be core contributors - especially on home ice when they were moved away from top defensive units wherever possible - they're currently toting bagels so far. I like all three of these guys, but it's time to sack up and make something happen.
  • Grant Clitsome - Clitter did NOT look comfortable or in control tonight. A lot of bad passes, some whiffs on his defensive coverage, and overcommitting on plays.
  • The Third Period - One @$*$ing shot? OK, yes, it was a goal, but....one $*%@ing shot? Are you kidding me? The Jackets needed to go for the throat, and instead they let the Avalanche tune themselves right back in. Full credit to Varlamov and the Avs for that, but full negatives for the Jackets letting them get away with it.
  • Power Play - Free Wiz.
  • Quislings - If you pay $100 for a seat (or $4100 if you have full season tickets as you claim), $150 for a jersey, and god knows how much time and effort to get it covered in signatures, and then spend the entire game screaming your head off about how much the team sucks and how we need new goalies and new coaches, perhaps you'd be better off saving your money and staying home. You want to wear the team's colors? ROOT FOR THE DAMN TEAM. 

The Jackets are off until Saturday, when they'll take on the Stars in Dallas as part of a home and home series. I have a feeling that practice tomorrow will be...spirited.

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