With Ken Hitchcock and the Blues coming into Nationwide Arena for the first of six meetings this year, a lot of storylines were raised over his return to Columbus, the Kris Russell / Nikita Nikitin trade, and the continued bad blood between the two Central Division franchises, and it seemed that each storyline would have a moment to shine tonight.
On the whole, Hitchcock's presence was felt from the drop of the puck to the final whistle, with St. Louis playing a very resolute defensive game around netminder Brian Elliott, particularly in their commitment to shot blocking and winning key faceoffs, meaning this game had a rather glacial tinge to it, particularly after the fired up match vs. Buffalo a few nights before.
The first period could be best described as "feeling out", with neither side taking big risks in the first few minutes, but each side warming to the attack and generating some solid chances by the end of the frame, particularly for St. Louis in the final few minutes, where they dominated possession, but Elliott and Curtis Sanford had all the answers they need to go scoreless into the intermission.
After the Jackets were given an early opportunity on the power play and failed to convert, Columbus would crack the scoring puzzle when Sammy Pahlsson took the puck away from Alexander Steen and made a perfect pass to Derek Dorsett behind the St. Louis defense for a breakaway, which he buried with a perfect low glove side shot on Elliott.
Through the period the Jackets attempted to extend their lead, but some bad passes and just plain bad luck marked several attempts, while St. Louis also made some nice defensive efforts.
With time winding down after both sides failed to connect on power play opportunities, the Jackets and Blues found themselves in 4 on 4 hockey after a hooking call to Jeff Carter and an answering mark for Matt D'Agostini. With less than fifteen seconds left in the period the Blues broke into the Columbus zone, and Antoine Vermette was unable to keep up with Steen as he drove to the net. Steen fired a shot that caromed off Sanford, while the defense failed to pick up the rebound that came to none other than Kris Russell, pinching in on the play, who hammered the puck home for the tying goal.
With the Jackets unable to break the tie when they took an abbreviated power play to start the third frame, Cody Bass would call out Ryan Reaves for what he felt was a questionable hit from earlier in the game and goad him into dropping the gloves. Circling each other for a good thirty seconds before finally engaging, Bass would dominate the brief tussle, unloading several nasty bombs before losing his balance and falling to the ice.
If the fight was intended to pump up the Blue Jackets, however, it failed to achieve that goal. The next five minutes would belong decisively to St. Louis, turning up the offensive pressure before drawing a hooking penalty on Fedor Tyutin.
On the ensuing power play, the Jackets PK held out for over a minute, but T.J. Oshie would get a shot in on net, and Derek Dorsett would lose his coverage on David Backes, who was waiting for the puck to tip it past Sanford for the 2-1 lead.
The Jackets would attempt to equalize again, including another power play opportunity when Ian Cole was boxed for hooking, but St. Louis would win several key faceoffs with the man advantage, denying Columbus a chance to set up their offense, while Elliot delivered key saves against Rick Nash and Ryan Johansen.
As time wound down, the Jackets would pull Curtis Sanford for the extra attacker, but Elliott held his crease and stood up to the Columbus attempts, preserving the win for his team.
Final Score: St. Louis 2 - Columbus 1 (Final)
This felt like a winnable game, and I'd argue it was, but the Jackets were guilty of a few key mistakes. Full credit to Elliott - he played very, very well, and Curtis Sanford wasn't a slouch either, but this was two points the club let slip through their fingers.
- Derek Dorsett - He made a mistake on the PK, but that move to score on the breakaway was SICK.
- Jeff Carter - Carter had a couple nice passing plays that just failed to connect and went 10-16 on draws
- Antoine Vermette - Didn't score, but did a lot of great work in board battles, won 5 of 6 faceoffs, and had some nice defensive work.
- Curtis Sanford - Gave the team more than a fair chance to win, and wasn't really at fault for either goal.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Power Play - The Jackets had three full power plays and two abbreviated chances with the man advantage and failed to convert on all of them.
- Fedor Tyutin - Tyutin did not look comfortable all night, and took three penalties (holding and two hooking calls) as a direct result of being out of position or failing to get on his assignment.
- Killer Instinct - It really felt like the team just lacked any sort of urge to finish tonight, costing them the tying goal to Kris Russell and any chance of getting back into things after losing their slim lead.
The good news is that these issues are correctable, particularly if Sanford continues his strong play. The Jackets will hit the road, and perhaps have a chance to find a little momentum there.