At one point before the game started, one Blue Jackets fan on twitter quipped that perhaps Marc Denis was NOT the best choice of alumni to honor before a home game, given that he's tied with Alexander Svitov and Alexandre Picard for "Most disappointing Blue Jacket in franchise history."
As if it was an omen, an ill wind blew through Nationwide Arena tonight, and it felt like 2002 all over again...
The Jackets appeared to be getting a fairly good jump outshooting the Kings early and keeping LA off the scoreboard until Derek Dorsett was whistled for a very....loosely interpreted high stick. (Dorsett did clip Williams, but only after Williams hooked his stick under Dorsett's in the puck battle and drove the stick into his own face.)
The PK got a good initial clear, but on the ensuing entry, the Kings attacked again, and a Justin Williams shot caromed off Mason's leg pad. Jan Hejda skated past the loose puck without making an attempt to play it, while Mason attempted to get back into his crease, and Anze Kopitar was able to tap the puck into the open side of the net to open the scoring.
The Jackets would try to find their way back into the game, and it would turn out to be Derek Dorsett who made a big play, perhaps to make up for his earlier sins, barrelling into the Kings' zone and faking a shot on Jonathan Bernier before sending the puck back in a drop pass to Scottie Upshall, who utilized his lightning quick shot once again, scoring through an impossible gap to tie the score.
The Jackets appeared to draw momentum, and Rick Nash nearly gave the Jackets the lead with a gorgeous spinorama attempt to thread around Willie Mitchell, but it would be Kopitar scoring again to keep the Kings on top, redirecting a Drew Doughty point shot that took a bit of a funny bounce before sliding past Mason.
Trailing 2-1, the Jackets were still outshooting the Kings 15-10, and seemed like they had a decent bounce in their step as they went to the locker room.
Unfortunately, they followed up a decent, if not great, opening period with a truly feculent middle frame.
From the word go it seemed like Ethan Moreau was almost constantly in the penalty box, and though the PK did excellent work denying LA, the back to back penalties denied the Jackets any chance to get back onto the offensive.
(Moreau, for what it's worth, spent nearly the entire remaining game on the bench, logging only 7:17 of ice time. Bet you anything you like that we see Chris Clark in his spot tomorrow.)
After the Jackets finally got a bit of breathing room, they finally drew their first power play of the night when Rick Nash blew past Anze Kopitar, and the Slovenian pivot was forced to take a hooking call to break up Nash's charge.
The Jackets generated three of their five shots in the second period on the power play, including a stuff play by Voracek as the penalty expired, but Drew Doughty would snatch the rebound away from the crease and thread the needle up to Kopitar as he left the penalty box, giving him an open run on Steve Mason - practically the same situation (even the same starting point!) as a shootout attempt.
Kopitar must have watched film on Mason's recent shootout woes, because he did EXACTLY what so many shooters have used lately - varying his speed, speeding up at first and then slowing as he passed the faceoff circles, forcing Mason to come too far out of the crease to challenge, faking a shot, and when Mason went down to play for the fake, he slipped the puck past the goaltender's outstretched leg pads for his second career hat trick goal.
The Jackets would respond to the two goal deficit by another long parade to the penalty box, though somehow the Kings failed to capitalize on three consecutive advantages, and finally at the end of the period Rick Nash and Justin Williams engaged in a frank exchange of views following hacking and shoving at a late faceoff. The refs allowed Nash to elbow Williams, Williams to crosscheck Nash, and the two appeared to be preparing to drop the gloves even as their linemates rushed in before Francois St. Laurent and Dan O'Halloran considered "Gee, I think that perhaps the boys are getting a bit too rambunctious this evening. Perhaps we should consider taking steps to prevent the situation from becoming untoward."
By the time the dust settled (full points to Marc Methot for getting Williams in a headlock around Pierre Champoux's body and giving him a nasty couple of rabbit punches while he had the opportunity), the period would end in a brief 4 on 4 spurt with both Williams and Nash in the box on coincidental minors, and the Jackets would put themselves back out on the ice in the third with perhaps a bit more spark behind their eyes.
After a scary moment where Drew Doughty collied with the edge of the glass at the Columbus bench following a hit by Umberger (which he would return from), the teams played through the remaining 4 on 4, but it felt like the momentum had started to shift. From the start of the period, the Jackets finally seemed to understand that only shots on net would produce goals, and it would be LA's turn to have a parade to the box, beginning with Drew Doughty going after a nasty hit from behind on Derek MacKenzie after the fourth line centerman delivered a nice hipcheck behind the LA net.
The Jackets tried to muster offense, but LA did a textbook job of breaking up plays and forcing the Jackets back from the blue line, denying their attempts to set up, and it would lead to another outbreak of frustration as Jared Boll dropped the gloves with Kevin Westgarth, challenging the Ivy League brawler in an attempt to keep pushing his team.
Sadly, it was a reminder that while you cannot fault Jared Boll's heart, you can certainly question his decision-making - Westgarth had height, reach, and mass advantages, and used all three in the bout. Boll managed to keep his feet, and I think he might have pulled it back to a draw (or at least only a narrow loss), but Westgarth controlled much of the fight, delivering both headshots and body blows while minimizing his exposure to counterattacks.
By chance, however, the Jackets once again drew a penalty after the bout, with Jarret Stoll going to the box after a trip on Antoine Vermette, and the Jackets finally seemed to click offensively, forcing Bernier to make several saves in rapid succession, and finally, as the penalty expired, Derick Brassard came into the zone, motored his way up the boards, and sent the puck to Nash, who took his own shot into Bernier's legs, generating a rebound that Brassard was able to tuck just into the far post to bring the Jackets within one.
Unfortunately, that's where the team's luck ran out.
Despite several more chances (the Jackets would outshoot the Kings 14-3), including a goal mouth save on Nash and a sequence where R.J. Umberger got the puck past Bernier in mid air, but Brassard rang it off the iron instead of into the net, and the Kings would catch a break in the final minutes of the game when Kris Russell attempted to play the puck at the blue line as the Jackets prepared to pull Steve Mason for an extra attacker. Falling down, he managed to not only collapse in a way that knocked the puck into the neutral zone, but he actually pushed it towards Dustin Penner, who raced down the ice with Justin Williams and a trailing Drew Doughty.
Grant Clitsome got back and attempted to block Penner's shot, but he left enough of an opening that the former Oiler could make a saucer pass to Williams, who beat Mason top shelf to seal the game.
Final Score - Kings 4, Jackets 2.
- Scottie Upshall - Back up the money truck, Mr. Howson. It isn't Upshall's fault the team has been losing games, and he's continued to do everything he was brought here for.
- Derick Brassard - Even though he couldn't get the equalizer, Brassard still had a strong game in his second night back after his hand injury, and he did everything he could to get the top line going.
- Sami Lepisto - He wasn't able to complete a couple of scoring opportunities (though he did lead the defense with 4 shots on goal), but Lepisto continues to be solid defensively, and he had a great breakout move late in the third, cutting through the Kings' D and walking to the net before Bernier was able to get the puck away from him.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Steve Mason - As I mentioned in our game thread, two of the goals against tonight were entirely on the defense, but Kopitar's second and third goals were both in situations where you need the goaltender to make a save to keep his team in it - particularly Kopitar's penalty box breakaway. When you get down to it, the Kings scored 4 times on 22 shots. That's a horrific performance, particularly for a team whose playoff chances are on life support.
- Defense - Guys, what the HELL? The Kings were allowed to establish themselves without any resistance. The only defenseman with a positive rating tonight was Marc Methot. Too many plays died at the blue line, and both Tyutin and Grant Clitsome seemed incredibly uncomfortable in the power play units - and don't even get me started on the total lack of attention to where the puck was on the ice in relation to both teammates and opponents.
- Officiating - The refs let a LOT of horseplay go uncalled from both sides, but the Jackets seemed to take the worst of it, and the end of the second period was a textbook example of a game getting out of hand.
- Rick Nash's Stats - This is not actually a criticism of Nash, who had 8 shots and played a solid game despite having Doughty or Mitchell almost constantly hanging off of him, but of the way his teammates seemed to be constantly deferring chances to their Captain when he was on the ice because he's on the cusp of a career milestone. Yes, Nash getting 30 goals for the nth consecutive season since the lockout is great. Yes, I know that this team tends to play a bit better when Nash is scoring. Yes, I know he's been in something of a drought. But passing off to him at every opportunity, even when you have the better scoring chance, just to get him goal #30? Horrible. Stop trying to make Nasher the hero, and start being a hero yourselves.
The Jackets pack up, get on a plane, and head to North Carolina tonight, to take on the Hurricanes. The Canes are coming off a loss of their own to Washington, and I have a feeling they remember their ugly loss to the Jackets at Nationwide last season, and will be looking for a little payback.