With the opportunity for a fresh start in 2012, the Jackets kicked off their first West Coast trip of the season in HP Pavilion, where success has been a difficult thing to obtain.
Throughout his pre-game press conference, Jackets head coach Scott Arniel talked about how the team had to avoid giving San Jose opportunities on the power play, and the importance of keeping up momentum against such a dangerous offense.
So when I tell you the Jackets gave up 12 minutes of penalties and didn't receive a power play of their own, you probably already understand where this is going to go.
That's not to say that things started badly: The Jackets attempted to come out and set an early tone with the third line, who put some solid hits out early, and the Jackets tested San Jose backup Thomas Greiss with several shots before Curtis Sanford had to make his first save of the game.
Even better, the Jackets opened the scoring off a rush, with Antoine Vermette breaking into the zone and firing a long shot from the top of the zone. Greiss made the initial save, but Mark Letestu would grab the puck and send a quick drop pass to Vinny Prospal, who fired home goal number eight on the season.
Columbus kept up the pressure, looking to extend the lead, but the period turned when Dan Boyle tried to lift the stick of Ryan Johansen, and the momentum carried his stick blade up and back into the San Jose defenseman's face, drawing blood.
Forced to kill a double minor, the Jackets were able to hold off the circling Shark power play for much of the penalty, but a sequence of several quick shots flummoxed Sanford, who could not freeze the puck. Losing his balance after blocking a Michael Handzus shot, the puck slid along the Sandman's leg pad and squirted free at the side of the crease, where Ryan Clowe was waiting for the tap in to tie the game.
Jared Boll, elevated to a line with Prospal and Carter, struck the iron in the Jackets' attempt to get back into the game, but the rally would peter out after another Johansen high sticking call, this one fortunately just a 2 minute minor that the PK would shut down.
Energized by their tying goal, the Sharks surged out in the second period, turning up their physical play and pushing the Jackets into the neutral zone. Pressured in their own zone, the Jackets could not keep San Jose's top line from controlling the puck, and eventually Sanford would give up an ugly rebound off a Patrick Marleau shot that Joe Thorton would backhand over Sanford and into the net to put the Sharks ahead.
To their credit, that's all the scoring that Sanford and the defense would allow, but Columbus' offense simply could not break back into this game, while San Jose took advantage of two more power plays in the third period to help bottleneck the Jackets' attempts to recover.
There was hope late in the game with Sanford on the bench for an extra attacker. The Jackets buzzed furiously around the net, including a great play by Nikita Nikitin to protect the puck along the blue line, but some key shot blocks and one last save by Greiss would tell the story of this game: Good effort, but not quite enough.
Final Score: Sharks 2 - Jackets 1
- Vinny Prospal - He just keeps Vinning, and has regained the team's points lead.
- Curtis Sanford - While his rebounds weren't great, he still stopped 37 of 39 shots, and really kept the team in the game in the third period.
- Nikita Nikitin - Another strong game, and if the Jackets had scored with the empty net, his keep in at the blue line would have been the play of the game to keep that possession alive.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Injuries - Add another to the body count: Mark Letestu got crunched along the boards by Douglas Murray early in the third period, and the hit broke his hand. Really tough luck for him - his setup on Prospal's goal was a thing of beauty.
- Offense - We can question the wisdom of placing Jared Boll on the second line, but nothing seemed to click tonight. Credit San Jose for doing their thing and doing it well, but still frustrating.
- Officials - I find it amazing that the Sharks did absolutely nothing worthy of a penalty (with the exception of mutual roughing minors between Brent Burns and Jared Boll that had an extra two minutes for the Jackets thrown in). Especially with a few hooks and holds that apparently weren't serious enough to call.
With a fresh body being called up from Springfield (Tomas Kubalik? Or do you reward Cam Atkinson's AHL all-star nomination with a trip to the show?) the Jackets will travel to LA and have a little time to recover before jumping back in against the Kings on Saturday.