With the Jackets playing their third game on two nights, and assembling much of the squad using players who didn't make it back into town until 4am last night following the game in Winnipeg, it's not surprising that the team seemed to have extremely heavy legs as they took on the
Hershey Bears Washington Capitals in Nationwide.
Despite the addition of Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, and Fedor Tyutin to the lineup, the biggest adjective to describe the Jackets for much of this game was "Sloppy", and Carter, when asked, agreed - "It was pretty sloppy for a bunch of us, but as we get deeper into the preseason that'll clean up. It's the first or second game for a lot of guys, an it's a lot different. It'll clean up and be all right."
Despite Washington keeping the Jackets on their heels for much of the first period with a steady pressure and higher tempo, Steve Mason was big early, making sharp, aggressive saves. For lack of a better word, Mason was all about poise tonight, playing a bit more aggressively, making good decisions with the puck, and (for the most part),staying up on his skates and moving with much more economy than we've come to expect the last few seasons.
The Capitals also set a hard, physical, chippy tone, with several players putting on some nasty hits and looking to make an impression more by fisticuffs than anything else. Jared Rechlitz and Andrew Carroll both were involved in several altercations, though each only received one official fighting major, and a scrum around the boards or the crease following a stoppage in play was more frequent than not.
Jeff Halpern would open the scoring late in the first period by getting in tight to the goal and popping a light wrist shot at the goal, but from the replay and the view up top it appeared that the puck went in because of a deflection by Nick Holden as he attempted to knock it away.
In the past, this might have been a sign to open the shooting gallery on Mason, particularly with so many of the Jackets showing heavy legs, but this time around the Jackets got a spark from one of the younger players looking to break through - Cam Atkinson, who tore up the ice shortly after the Capitals goal with Rick Nash on a breakout play and then drove to the net before unloading a wicked backhand past Washington's Brayden Holtby.
"(David) Savard saw me swinging, gave it to me with some good speed, I found Nash, then Nash made a good play to get the puck to me, and I just had to bury it."
Moving through the defenders and creating space for himself, Atkinson was impressive and earned several more "near miss" chances through the rest of the game. Though his size continues to be a concern at the NHL level, it's clear he has the talent and drive. I suspect we'll see him start the season in Springfield, but don't be shocked if #38 shows up in the locker room again this season.
After drawing a pair of penalties in the final minutes of the period, the Jackets had a brief 5 on 3 to end the frame, which continued into the early second period, but the "sloppiness" was evident as there were major issues keeping possession in the zone, missed passes, and a very confused feeling. Fedor Tyutin and Nick Holden worked the points for part of the sequence, with Rick Nash taking a turn at the point for a brief period, but it was clear that the Capitals didn't feel a real threat from the blue line, and the ad hoc units clearly didn't have much sense of timing. The lack of a heavy shot to keep the Capitals PK honest was clearly felt after watching the play yesterday evening - here's hoping that we'll see more effective performances as guys like Wisniewski and Martinek are integrated into the #1 / #2 units.
Despite trailing in every major stat category, the Jackets held onto the tied score for dear life, with Mason bailing out Nick Holden on one notable occasion after a major turnover, until the Jackets were on the PK with a little under 5 minutes to go following Traverse City invitee Adam Payerl being whistled for delay of game after he (and one of the Capitals he was tied up with) collided with the net and knocked it free.
With Maksim Mayorov and R.J. Umberger out for the penalty kill, the newly extended Umberger took a lead pass rom Teddy Ruth for a shorthanded rush up the ice with Mayorov. Holding the puck as they moved up the ice, he held the puck until they had crossed deep into the Capitals' zone and launched a laser of a pass to Mayorov, who blasted it past Holtby on the netminder's stick side.
"Great play by R.J - Great paitence...a good skate by him and he got me the puck. I just had to put it in."
It was his second goal of the preseason after threatening on several scoring chances earlier in the game. Mayorov has clearly been upping his game in an attempt to make the team, and mentioned that he put extra work in during the offseason towards that goal, including a skating coach - improvements which have not gone unnoticed by head coach Scott Arniel: "These young guys are the ones you want to see the spark from...Maks is a 4 year pro, since he came over as an 18 year old. The role we gave him was more of a checking role and the penalty kill - he's got good skill but we didn't picture him in the top six...he's starting to understand that as a PKer and shutdown guy that his skills can come from that...He knows there's a job open there and he's been very determined."
Those skills would be further on display early in the third period, with the Jackets nursing the 2-1 advantage, when Jared Boll rattled the puck loose deep n the Washington end, feeding it to Mayorov, who swung down behind the Washington net. Looking up the ice, he fired a bullet up to David Savard as he pinched in at the top of the zone, and the defensive prospect took the pass and threaded his way into the slot, deking past the Washington D and ripping a bullet of a shot past Washington netminder Philip Grubauer, who came in to start the third period in place of Holtby, while Steve Mason stayed in for the duration.
With a 3-1 lead, the Jackets seemed energized, and seemed to be taking control of the game when a slash was called on Andrew Joudrey, putting them back on the kill.
With Rick Nash and Jeff Carter sent out to help on the PK, the crowd got to their feet in anticipation when Nash was sprung by Carter on a breakaway, but Grubauer managed to get his pads down to stop Nash's first shot and then lunge through the crease to grab the puck when Nash collected his own rebound and took a second shot, trapping it to the ice - quite possibly the only time Nash has even been stopped in a 1 on 1 situation against a goalie where he had two clean shots at the net!
That save seemed to invigorate the Capitals even as it slightly deflated the Jackets, and with under two and a half minutes to go, the Capitals started drawing the Jackets into a "track meet" situation, attacking with a long end to end rush and then managing to set up a strong cycle that the D on the ice were unable to disrupt before Andrew Carroll loaded up and fired a nasty wrist shot past Mason that the Jackets' netminder had no chance on.
Worse, with less than a minute and a half left, Washington would pull Grubauer for the extra attacker and convert on a very similar play, this time tying the game off a Roman Hamrlik bomb from the point that Mason simply went down too quickly on, facing the shooter but opening up too much of the net.
With the lead erased, the Jackets managed to stop a third late scoring attempt by the Capitals and take the game to OT, where both sides seemed more uncomfortable, but Washington would make a mistake and send Jeff Schultz to the box at almost the exact one minute mark of extra time.
Once again, the Jackets' PP looked uncomfortable and disorganized (the 4-on-3 isn't exactly something you practice daily), but Fedor Tyutin would manage to find Alexandre Giroux, formerly a member of the Capitals system in Hershey, who ripped a one timer from above the right faceoff dot to send the crowd home happy.
Despite a pleased mood in the dressing room, however, there was an odd tension when Scott Arniel opened his post-game press conference.
"We're going to start a little bit differently - I have some injury things."
The news, in fact, was not good. Backup netminder Mark Dekanich, injured when he was run over in his crease on Tuesday, will miss at least 4 weeks with a high ankle sprain. Teddy Ruth, who was a fairly solid, if not spectacular blueliner, inured his knee late in the game and will need to be evaluated tomorrow. Tomas Kubalik, hit by Jason Gregoire in Winnipeg, has a concussion and will miss at least the next five days - perhaps more.
It's a nasty butcher's bill, and one that undermines a lot of the pleased feeling of a win - even if it was a win that could have been, perhaps, a bit simpler.
Scott Arniel didn't seem particularly concerned by the late collapse - perhaps putting it down to the same "sloppiness" and "rust" that Carter expected to improve as the team keeps playing.
- Maksim Mayorov - Every day he's hustlin' - it's very clear that Mayorov sees the spot on the roster that could have his name on it, and he's busting his ass to take it. His goal may have been "simple" in his words, but the pass he made to Savard was a thing of beauty.
- Steve Mason - Despite the two late goals (only one of which I felt was a "stoppable" shot), Mason kept the team alive early and put on an outstanding performance in his first real game since starting to work with Ian Clark.
- David Savard - Helping to spring Atkinson for the initial Jackets' goal and putting on a beautiful set of moves to score his own goal, Savard also had some nice keep ins and puck control on the power play, and though he made a few little mistakes, generally looked very good.
- Power Play - The lack of organization was pretty obvious, and concerning. Admittedly, the one goal they got was a REAL GOOD ONE, but still.
- Brent Regner / Theo Ruth / Peter Straka / Nick Drazenovic - Guys who are likely on the bubble for the next set of cuts needed to use this game to help make an impact and a positive impression, and I didn't really feel like they did. Lost opportunities.
- Pointless Fights - It's one thing to have a fight or get into some roughousing for things that happened in the course of the game, such as Adam Payerl getting into a scrap after an attempt to run Steve Mason, but the Boll / Rechlitz and Ruth / Carroll fights felt like someone dropping the gloves just to drop them, with no real reason or flow out of the game at all. The Ruth / Carroll fight is doubly crap because not only did it appear to happen for no reason whatsoever, it could very well have been the point where Ruth injured his knee.