"It was a long summer for everyone," Jared Boll said afterward. The scores don't count, but the performances do. We finally got a partial glimpse at the new-look Blue Jackets tonight at Nationwide Arena. The non-Winnipeg-traveling contingent took on the Jets' non-Winnipeg contingent--by most accounts a pretty paltry squad--and even though the Jackets' lineup was mixed with youngsters, it was great to see some hockey just the same!
Todd Richards was behind the bench tonight, and he called the Jackets an "opportunistic team" that buried its opportunities. When was the last time you could say that about *any* Jackets lineup?
After an off-season of big moves to improve their team, we finally got to see one of those moves take center-stage tonight. James Wisniewski showed off the offensive skills that brought him to Columbus on a big contract. He ran the Power Play with aplomb, he bombed several shots from the point, and he showed up on the stat sheet.
But, it was another guy--a guy working hard just to make this team--who was the player I noticed the most. Maksim Mayorov played all-out every shift. He skated, he checked, he got on the scoresheet. Overall, though, it was an offensive onslaught the likes of which we haven't seen much in Columbus. I know, I know, it was pre-season. But it started with a bang.
The first period got off to a bumpy start, as the Jets appeared to have an early goal. It was, however, waved off after incidental contact with the goaltender was called. After that, Mark Dekanich was very, very sharp for his period of work. He stopped all eight shots he faced, and looked crisp and confident in doing so. He did, however, have to leave the game after the first period with a lower-body injury. After the game, both Richards and GM Scott Howson both said it was a leg injury, that Dekanich was "day-to-day" and that he'd be re-evaluated in the morning. Richards noted that pulling him from the game was more precautionary than anything.
The Jackets took a 1-0 lead into the dressing room at the first intermission on a--wait for it--Power Play goal. The penalty came after Dekanich had stoned Evander Kane on a breakaway, and some fisticuffs broke out when Kane went hard into the goal. Blake Wheeler went off at 7:34 for roughing, and the Jackets made the Jets pay a minute and a half into the Power Play. Oliver Gabriel and Michael Chaput moved the puck around to Nick Holden at the left point, and he let one rip that beat Jets' goalie Chris Mason. "It shows some confidence that the organization has in us, to put us out there in our first game," Chaput said. "It's great to be out there to try and help the team get some goals."
This was not the only time the Jackets' new-look Power Play would shine on the night, but we'll get to that.
The second period belonged to Mayorov, who skated like a mad man each and every time out on the ice. Just 33 seconds into the second, he skated in on the right side after a turn-over and snapped one past Mason to make it 2-0 Jackets. "[Mayorov] did a lot of good things in creating offense," Richards said afterward. "He obviously scored a beautiful goal. We used him in different situations; we didn't use him on the Power Play, but five-on-five and penalty kill. For him to have a real impact on this team, it's gotta be a big part of his game: being reliable and dependable in his own end. As a young kid, he's got great size and great speed, which really adds to this team."
Columbus was not done, as the fans in attendance got a look at just what Wisniewski can bring to the team. Four minutes into the period, John Moore ripped a slapshot from the left point that missed the net, but the puck caromed back to Wisniewski near the top of the right circle. He let it fly, and while Mason made the save, he gave up a fat rebound that Boone Jenner grabbed and slipped past him into the open net for his first Blue Jackets goal. "With the skill and the size that we have down low," Wisniewski said, "the point shot is going to create a lot more room down low for our big, skilled, strong forwards. Our object is to get as many pucks to the net as possible, and with our big bodies crashing the net to create as many scoring opportunities as possible."
The Jets would get on the board at 6:21 after Wheeler and Kane would execute a perfect rush to beat new Jackets' goalie Paul Dainton, but that would be it for the Jets. The night belonged to the Jackets' offense, and they again flexed their new-found Power Play muscles shortly after.
Travis Ramsey went off for tripping at 7:51, and the "top" PP unit went to work. Vinny Prospal found himself with some space on the left side, and fired a shot that rebounded out in front. R.J. Umberger would get a stick on it, and it would eventually trickle off to the right side of the crease where Antoine Vermette was waiting to tap it home. 4-1 Jackets, 2-for-3 on the PP. Could this be real?
"The second [Power Play] goal was really kind of a textbook goal," coach Richards said. "[It was] almost like we practiced that thing for a couple months now. It's a credit to the players, because really the first time we practiced it was this morning. You can see that the guys out on the ice have a real feel for where they need to be."
For good measure, the Jackets would add a fifth goal before the close of the second period, as fellow blue-line newcomer Radek Martinek would show that he can contribute offensively as well. He blistered a shot from the right point that Samuel Pahlsson redirected at the 12:36 mark to make it 5-1.
The third period was uneventful from a scoring standpoint, but Paul Dainton was impressive for his entire body of work. After getting beat early in the second period on a play in which he didn't have much chance, he locked it down, stopping 17-of-18 shots overall, including all seven in the third period to close it out.
Final Score: Jackets 5 - Jets 1
- Maksim Mayorov - He did a bit of everything tonight. He scored, he checked, he killed penalties. He was all over the ice. This is a continuation of how he looked on Sunday in the Owner's Tournament, and it's a good sign.
- James Wisniewski - The best way I can describe his game tonight was "as advertised, and then some." He looks comfortable with the puck on his stick. His shot is FOR REAL. His work on the Power Play was smooth and he looked solid at even-strength. He works well with the puck on his stick, and he never ever looked rattled on the Power Play. THAT, in and of itself, is something new for this team. He also had an assist (originally two, one was taken away on review) in 22:30 of ice time.
- Samuel Pahlsson, Michael Chaput, and Antoine Vermette - Weird? Perhaps. But, on a night where the Jackets simply dominated the faceoff circle for most of the game--as high as 64.9% at one point in the third period--these guys did the heavy lifting. Pahlsson was 8-for-10; Chaput was 6-for-10; Vermette was 10-for-18. They combined to go 63.2% on draws. Huge boost.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- John Moore - Hard to give this out to anyone on a night where the Jackets win by four, but Moore was probably one of the guys I noticed the least. In a game like this, that's not necessarily a good thing. Moore was on the ice for 16:30, and was invisible for big chunks of that time. His one assist came on a shot that missed the net and rebounded to Wisniewski.
All in all, while the results don't count, there was much to be learned from this game. While the players all cautioned that it was just an exhibition game--and Winnipeg clearly sent Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, Ron Hainsey, and not much else--Wisniewski looks like the real-deal with respect to why he was brought here. Martinek is solid. Mayorov is motivated. Prospal looks healthy enough and skilled. And, the Jackets scored five goals without Rick Nash or Jeff Carter.
What's not to like?
Stay tuned for Mike's recap of "the nightcap" later on...