How is it that Nationwide Arena welcomed over 12,500 spectators last night on a night where the incredibly bad winter weather that has become commonplace here in New England ensnared thirty states and is continuing to have an effect on 100 million Americans? Was it the allure of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Black Hawks? Was it the fact that because the Hawks were festooned in their sporty third jerseys that the Jackets got to wear their road whites?
How then is it that the Jackets allowed the high powered offense of the Black Hawks several wide open shooting lanes and on those opportunities where the lanes were not open, allowed a screen in front of the cage equivalent to the Great Wall? How many questions can I ask to start a game recap? Follow along after the jump to relive the pain.
With Captain Rick Nash's words still fresh in my mind from the pregame show, "we need to play five on five...they have an awesome power play", it took but six seconds for Kristian Huselius to get his stick ensnared in Fernando Pisani's skates. The PK unfortunately was the least of the Jackets' problems on this night. For the record, on four PP opportunites, the Black Hawks converted once when Duncan Keith found the back of the net against Steve Mason late in the first period.
Mase once again appeared to be forcing his game. Despite that, the D offered minimal support in the game. The defense as a whole continue to proudly (it seems) show their weaknesses for all opponents to observe and exploit. The D, as a whole, on a nightly basis get caught flat footed in the neutral zone and simply cannot get back to protect their end of the ice quickly enough. Playoffs or not, the defense really needs to be addressed during the offseason. As the trading deadline looms at the end of the month, there are few available "rent a player" options that will provide the long term support the Jackets need for their defense.
The scoring on the night started with a nice effort by Derek Dorsett. Grant Clitsome got the play started with what is quickly becoming his signature, the blast from the point. Kris Russell worked the puck behind the net to Dorsett, who cleanly beat Marty Turco. It was one of those plays that gave me the dreaded false sense of security. I thought Turco looked weak on the play, and I felt at the time that he could be had if the Jackets could get enough pucks to the goal.
Then at 9:10 of the period, Nick Leddy tallied his second of the season. Somewhat of an omen, Mason was completely screened when the puck came to Leddy at the top of the slot. He unleashed one through the screen. It hit the crossbar and bounced in.
Again, defying the Captain, the Jackets went two men down in the latter stages of the first period. Derick Brassard took two for a high stick followed 14 ticks later when Marc Methot went to the box on a delay of game call. Against the Hawks, being one man down is bad enough. Two bordered on suicide. The Hawks delivered on the previously mentioned Duncan Keith blast that gave the visitors a 2-1 lead.
The end of the first period didn't come until after new ice was laid down. The lights at Nationwide dimmed noticeably with 39.6 seconds to go in the period. The teams were sent to their dressing rooms and after the issue was resolved, the clubs skated the final seconds of the first period, then changed ends to start the second period.
The Jackets came out for the second en fuego when Brassard and Sammy Pahlsson lit the lamp just 42 seconds apart to bring the Jackets back even at three apiece. Two beauty goals that once again pointed to Turco's difficulties. Former Springfield Indians coach (I had to work that in!), Joel Quenneville, then used his club's time-out effectively. It was obvious after rallying his troops that the Jackets' momentum was snubbed.
The Hawks roared back on Viktor Stalberg's eighth marker of the season, after he stepped back on the ice after serving a penalty for roughing up Kris Russell. Jonathan Toews depucked Chris Clark, making a nice feed to Patrick Kane who beat a rapidly deflating Steve Mason. The game changed for good on a Jackets power play. With 2:33 remaining in the second, Jack Skille was called for putting the puck over the glass. With the score 4-3 in favor of the Hawks, this was a make or break PP opportunity for the Jackets. As the clock counted down under a minute, Jonathan Toews schooled Fedor Tyutin and Grant Clitsome, first by forcing Tyutin to cough up the biscuit then skating around Clitsome as if he wasn't even there. Toews decisively buried the shot behind Mason and for all intents and purposes the Jackets were done. Goals with under a minute are bad enough, but shorthanded and in your house are unbearable.
Despite the Toews goal, the Jackets took to the ice for the third period determined. And with Mathieu Garon in goal. Coach Scott Arniel would say later, "Five goals after two periods. I’d seen enough. I was trying to spark things for that third period."
The physical side of the game came front and center with a punishing hit by Marc Methot, only to be outdone by R.J. Umberger's shoulder to shoulder blast on Brent Seabrook. In case you missed it, here it is:
Dave Bolland cleanly beat Garon for his eleventh of the season at the 12 minute mark. With the score at 6-3 and time slipping through their gloves, the Jackets pulled within one on a terrific hustling play by Matt Calvert. Calvert took a feed from Derek MacKenzie and rushed in on Turco. Fighting off a Chicago defender, Calvert swerved to avoid hitting the Chicago netminder and mixed in just enough deke to earn his third NHL goal. Matt Calvert is one of those guys who I feel very honored to have seen play in person for half a season here. He has brought the same determination to Columbus that he showed every night here in Springfield.
Marian Hossa closed out the scoring with an empty netter, making the final 7-4.
My take: This was another disappointing effort by the Jackets. As much as I like Scott Arniel behind the bench, I am concerned that now that we're into the perceived second half of the season, the futility continues. Porous defense, shaky goaltending, sporadic offense and it's becoming more and more apparent that the game plan (if there is one) never changes. I call it "desperation hockey". It's played reactively instead of proactively. It's no way to achieve success in the NHL. Maybe it's a case of doing the best with what they have, but if their play continues as an unfocused train wreck, it'll be 31 games then summer vacation.
Derek Dorsett: A goal and an assist...a pretty good night for DD.
Matt Calvert: Yeah, I'm a MC mark. I admit it. But you can't say that wasn't an awesome goal!
R.J. Umberger: Not his best night (-2 for the game). I'm basing this mainly on his de-jocking of Seabrook.
Bottom of the Barrel: (do I really only get to pick three?)
Anton Stralman: Another feeble effort in a growing season of despair. Oh yeah, and a -3 on the night.
The Rest of the D: How else can I double dip Stralman? By lumping him back in with the defense as a whole. They had moments of adequate NHL play, but for the most part Swiss Cheese would have offered more protection.
Steve Mason: Mental? Physical? ASG Rust? You name it, Mase wasn't equal to the task at hand.
The Jackets now have a couple of days to reflect on what was another bad game. While they would probably prefer to be on a beach somewhere, the schedule calls for them to travel to The Joe and a clash against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday. Looking ahead, I expect a totally different game than was played against the Black Hawks. It's probably the optimist in me, but hey, it's all I have to go with!