I'll be 100% honest with you - I had a holiday party to host last night, so I spent most of the first period taking around drinks, making sure people had food, and keeping an eye on the game, but not a terribly close one.
The second period, I sat down and had some time to actually watch, and by the middle of the third I realized I was pretty safe to go back to being hostful and tending to my guests.
I'll keep this short and appropriately holiday-sweet, as you're likely pouring over your morning coffee and wondering what comes next for the Jackets after looking at yet another "L" in the box score.
After a lovely ceremony to celebrate Vinny Prospal's 1000th NHL game this season (which, for some reason, Fox Sports Ohio decided to tape delay until the first intermission - seriously, guys? Really?), the Jackets took to the ice to face former netminder Mathieu Garon and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Despite some fair early pressure, including an impressive shift by Derek Mackenzie and the fourth line (with special guest star Ryan Johansen), Tampa would be first on the board when Teddy Purcell ducked around Grant Clitsome for a loose puck behind the net and fired a shot to Blair Jones right on the doorstep, who quickly whacked the puck past Steve Mason.
The Jackets survived a brief Tampa PP and drew an answering penalty to go 4 on 4, then had some chances late, but the team once again surrendered a goal in the final two minutes of a period, this time on an scrambling play after Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone lead the Lightning out of their own zone, carrying the puck down into the the Jackets' zone. Stamkos sent a perfect pass up to Eric Brewer at the blue line. Brewer curled in, teed up, and fired a shot that Steve Mason was unable to stop, putting the Bolts up 2-0 at the end of 20 minutes.
The Jackets finally got back into the game after Blair Jones was sent to the box for a cross-check on Mark Letestu early in the second period, and R.J. Umberger would convert on the power play, taking a cross-ice feed from Vinny Prospal, sliding behind the Tampa net and popping in the wrap-around after Mathieu Garon slid out of the crease, exposing a wide open net.
Tampa would restore their lead, however, when a chaotic scramble for the puck around the Jackets' net ended with Vincent Lecavalier digging the puck out of Fedor Tyutin's skates and knocking it in the general direction of Stamkos as he angled towards the net. The former Rocket Richard winner didn't need any other assistance, pulling off a brutal shot through the traffic around Mason that smashed in and out of the net before the goaltender could react.
Rick Nash would respond in kind a few minutes later, grabbing a Jeff Carter rebound and slamming the puck home through on his own wrap around try, but the Jackets would be unable to crack the three goal barrier they've seen so often over the last two seasons.
The Jackets actually had a fair bit of success trying to generate momentum against Tampa's 1-3-1 defense throughout the third period, including a brutal miss on an open net by John Moore, but simply couldn't finish opportunities. The Jackets let the momentum slide back more and more to Tampa Bay, coming to a head when James Wisniewski was called for diving late in the period. Wisniewski appeared to have been clipped by a stick along the boards, but the referees felt he embellished the collision, and the Jackets were forced to go to the PK.
Drawing an equalizing penalty midway through, the crowd (and most at home) seemed to expect that once the Jackets had a brief PP, Scott Arniel would pull Steve Mason for a two man advantage, but he waited until the power play had expired before calling the goaltender to the bench, and the renewed advantage was negated by Tampa simply remaining in their successful PK formation rather than being forced to adapt.
The Lightning simply kept pushing the puck out of the zone, waiting for Columbus to re-enter, won the puck battle, and repeated until time finally, frustratingly, ran out.
Final Score: Lightning 3 - Jackets 2
- Vinny Prospal - A lovely ceremony with his family and two more assists tonight. I keep getting asked if Columbus would re-sign him. If he wanted to stay here, I wish Howson could sign him to another deal and clone the man a few times.
- R.J. Umberger - Gorgeous play on the Power Play goal.
- Rick Nash - A great job answering Stamkos with the goal.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Scott Arniel - This game really felt like the two teams were pretty evenly matched, but Arniel's failure to properly use his resources, especially in the final minutes of the game, were as much of an impact as Stamkos' puck skills on the outcome.
- Ryan Johansen - 8 minutes of ice time and 2 PIMs. Where is the Johan of Autumn?
- Grant Clitsome - Not a fun day at the office, as the Clitter missed his coverage on two of the three Tampa goals and found his minutes sharply curtailed as a result.
The Jackets finish a five game homestand with three points - all of them coming in the first two games. Disappointing isn't even the word for this.
Worse, there's no chance to try and recover mentally - the team was already packing their bags after the game to hit the road for St. Louis, where they'll start a Central Division road trip tonight.