With a chance to continue their first winning streak of the season, the Jackets traveled to Newark, NJ, and a team they've consistently struggled to match.
They expected a defensive struggle against the team that has defined "ironclad defense", and they certainly got that in a long, grinding battle that started from the first drop of the puck.
Though neither team would score in the first 20 minutes, the Jackets came out swinging with a 6-1 lead on the shot clock before the Devils drew consecutive powerplays to help push themselves to an 11-9 lead by the end of the first 20 minutes. Though challenged, the Jackets PK was excellent, while Curtis Sanford was fantastic, moving quickly, using his glove, and making a couple of big saves on the PK when called up.
The Jackets would start the second period decently, but unable to generate much pressure. That appeared about to change when Vinny Prospal and Rick Nash broke behind the Devils' defense to charge down on Brodeur on a 2-0 break, but Brodeur would use the fearsome puck handling skills he's so well known for to cut off the pass from Prospal to Nash and send the puck back to the Devils' trailing defense, who carried it back up on the attack. Adam Larsson, the 2011 first round pick, fired a bullet that Sanford was able to make a pad save on, but the rebound came to Dainius Zubrus, who was able to find the back of the net with his opportunity.
The Jackets would almost immediately get a chance to tie the game up on the power play, but New Jersey's exceptional PK came into play, breaking up opportunities and denying the Jackets any opportunity to create pressure. Though they did not convert, that tipped the team to start bringing more and more pressure against the Devils, and the third line of Sammy Pahlsson, Antoine Vermette, and Derek Dorsett were clearly frustrating the Devils by taking the puck and moving it up ice, punctuated when Dorsett very nearly converted on a breakaway opportunity but failed to get a shot away.
After a massive hit to Jared Boll that seems likely to get some NHL review, Cam Janssen was sent to the box for roughing, and the Jackets continued to build momentum, following that late penalty by drawing another, a hook on Vermette, in the dying seconds of the period.
In the opening PP, the Jackets had several excellent opportunities down low, but failed to beat the hall of fame goaltender, including a critical whiff on the puck by Rick Nash when Broduer was down after making a save against a Jeff Carter shot. The team even drew a brief 5 on 3 advantage, but the offense slowly ran out of steam there, giving up a shorthanded chance in the dying seconds that James Wisniewski was able to make an excellent move to break up.
Back to even strength, both teams would push back and forth before Jared Boll would go to the crease with the fourth line before Marc Methot took a pass from Vinny Prospal and fired a hard shot on net that would redirect off Anyton Volchenkov, carom off Boll's skate, and into the net.
The goal would be reviewed by the NHL, but they determined there was no kicking motion, and it would be ruled a good goal - Boll's first of the year.
That goal sparked the offense, and Jeff Carter nearly put the Jackets into the lead when he unloaded another blistering shot that beat Brodeur high but rang off the pipe. Columbus would keep pressuring Broduer, unloading 17 shots in the third period alone while only allowing Jersey four, but this game would not find an answer in regulation.
The Devils collected themselves for OT and challenged Curtis Sanford early, forcing him to make some excellent stops during the five minute period, while Columbus had a few opportunities, but only seemed dangerous when R.J. Umberger collected a Mark Letestu rebound and tried to fire a quick shot on net, but the puck sailed wide.
The five minute OT was similarly unsatisfied, so the final answer would come in the most hated of words for the Columbus Blue Jackets: A shoot out.
With Peter DeBoer and Scott Arniel selecting their shooters, Brodeur and Sanford prepared themselves, and the Devils selected to shoot first.
Ilya Kovalchuk would come in, perform a slight stutter move and freeze the Columbus netminder, firing through Sanford for the goal.
Rick Nash went wide then cut in, attempting to go high glove, but Brodeur stayed tall and took the puck away.
Zach Parise would go in and use a similar move to Kovalchuk to adjust his speed, drawing Sanford out towards the top of his crease, then popped a shot over his shoulder. That put the Jackets hopes in the hands of Mark Letestu, who also attempted a high-glove move, but Marty had an answer once again, and that would wrap things up out at the Prudential Center.
Final Score: Devils 2 - Jackets 1 (SO)
All in all, this was a really solid road game, and the Jackets competed well against an incredibly difficult defense and a goaltender who played right up to his hall of fame reputation - though we've gotten on the team for taking a lot of "low value" shots of late, there were a lot of very good chances here that Brodeur was able to answer, particularly late in the third period. Curtis Sanford didn't look great in the shootout, but he was very strong for the other 65 minutes of this game, and has extended the team's points streak to four games, and a 3-1-2 record in their last six.
Perhaps things aren't perfect, but what we're seeing now is one hell of an improvement over what we had to start the year.
- Curtis Sanford - Making some big saves, particularly in OT and one kick save with less than 1:30 left in regulation, Sanford is making a strong case to remain at the NHL level, and could very well be forcing the team to re-evaluate the plan of how to proceed when Steve Mason and Mark Dekanich get healthy.
- Jared Boll - Admittedly, his goal came more from being in the right place at the right time than a particular skill play, but Boll had a very smart game tonight, drawing several penalties, keeping his head when challenged, and a couple of boneshaking hits.
- Jeff Carter - Tying Rick Nash with a team leading 6 shots on goal, Carter was dangerous all night and came a goalpost away from his third goal in three games. Admittedly left on the bench for the shootout, a look at his record explains why Scott Arniel might not have felt so comfortable putting him in.
- Third Line - The shutdown line did exactly what they were supposed to tonight, visibly frustrated their Jersey counterparts, had some excellent scoring opportunities, and drew penalties. Great work.
- Zach Parise - Special mention for the Devils' captain, who was an absolute BEAST tonight, challenging the Jackets at even strength and the PP in addition to icing the shootout.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Shootouts - Seriously, these seem to be an Achilles' heel for this team, and have been since they came into the league. Can we please find a way to not suck in the skills competition?
- Sloppy Passes - Perhaps the unseasonably warm weather had a role to play, but there were a lot of sloppy passes and lazy pucks that certainly didn't help the team out tonight.
- Grant Clitsome - How can you have played 15 minutes tonight, yet I cannot remember you doing a damn thing?
- Rick Nash - An "A" for effort but a "C" for execution tonight - the captain took a lot of good shots and looked decent in his shootout attempt, but he also seemed to be fighting the puck and never seemed quite able to move the puck around well with his linemates.
All in all, it was a good road game, we got a point, and I'd say the effort level was there all night for this team. There's no shame in playing a solid game and taking a point home - in fact, this moves the Jackets up to 29th in the NHL (progress!). We wish they could have taken the second point home, but c'est la vie. You faced a worthy opponent, and gave a good accounting.
The Jackets fly home tonight (let's hope they don't get stuck in the crush of holiday travelers clogging the airports tonight), and will enjoy the holiday before taking on the Buffalo Sabres at home on Friday. Here's hoping we see the points streak continue to extend.