Despite a rocky start, the new additions to the Blue Jackets proved themselves in their first game of the 2013 season, and defeating Nashville 3-2 in a shootout for their first road win.
A wise man once said, "Begin as you mean to go on."
With the statements from John Davidson that the franchise was "going north" and leaving the past behind them when the puck dropped in Nashville earlier tonight, there were plenty of reasons to feel optimistic for the new roster, but also plenty of reasons to be concerned.
None of those reasons were lessened when Sergei Bobrovsky, the newly arrived netminder who was given the starting job tonight, let in a buttery soft goal on the first shot of the game, just 0:39 into the first period.
(In Bob's defense, he was screened pretty effectively by James Wisniewski, and the club left the entire neutral zone open as they attempted to make line changes. But still, it was hardly a good omen.)
After about a minute of "Aww, same old Jackets" jokes, though, it became clear that was really not the case. Derek Dorsett started laying the thunder out at every opportunity, and guys like Jared Boll, Derek MacKenzie, and Nikita Nikitin weren't shy either. Instead of getting locked up on his earlier mistake, Bob tightened up almost immediately, including a huge early save on Colin Wilson, and the club would eventually draw the first power play opportunity of the game.
The #1 unit would get themselves ready, and Fedor Tyutin would hammer a shot home that Nick Foligno would tip past Pekka Rinne to tie the game with his first game of the season - and his first as a Jacket.
Unfortunately the ice would tip back in Nashville's favor a few minutes later, and the Predators' power play would strike thanks to Ryan Ellis getting down low and forcing the puck through at the side of the crease.
Despite the one goal deficit after 20 minutes, head coach Todd Richards kept his cool, and the team paid him back by keeping theirs. With players at differing levels of rust on both sides, this frequently turned into a sloppy affair, and Columbus started showing the boys in mustard that this particular mudhole was their preferred battle ground.
The tipping point would come midway through the second period, when Jared Boll annihilated Craig Smith with a beautiful open ice hit, and noted facial topiary enthusiast Shea Weber came over to object to his behavior.
The Jackets came away with a power play and the added bonus of Nashville's captain off the ice for five minutes, and the team responded by hammering away at Rinne, though the Finnish netminder did a superb job of keeping up with the onslaught.
Maintaining their pressure, the Jackets looked for an opening, and were rewarded it just after the power play when Artem Anisimov took a perfect stretch pass from Tyutin into the Nashville zone, muscled around Paul Gaustad, and delivered a sharp angle backhander that I would describe, conservatively, as "sexual chocolate."
With the game tied back up, both sides locked down hard through the remainder of regulation, and OT would solve nothing, though Brandon Dubinsky did draw a last second holding penalty just before the clock ran down.
With one point secured for each side, I think most Jackets fans would have been satisfied if Rinne had managed to shut the club down in the skills competition, but instead we had another pleasant surprise in store.
The first round of shooters (Cam Atkinson and Martin Erat) would each come up dry, but AA would score with another backhander to give Columbus a 1-0 lead, and Mike Fisher would miss his opportunity to tie.
With the game on his stick, Jack Johnson was unable to punch his shot through, and you had a particular sinking feeling when David Legwand scored to send the shootout to extra innings. We've seen how this movie ends.
But yet again, the Jackets had something else in mind. Bob would keep the Jackets alive into the sixth round of shooters, when Derick Brassard would put home a nice little sneak attack before Bob denied Craig Smith to seal his second career win in Nashville, and his first in Union Blue.
It was sloppy, it was ugly, and it was a damn near thing, but it was still a win.
Begin as you mean to go on.
Final Score: Jackets 3 - Predators 2 (SO)
- Fedor Tyutin - OK, so Toots' dump pass after his first shift really wasn't, leading in part to the opening goal, but #51 responded brilliantly, and his stretch pass to set up AA was a work of art. I'm not surprised at all that he and Nikitin were one of our best pairings tonight - that playing time in the KHL is paying off.
- Artem Anisimov - Speaking of KHL playing time, AA was just sick nasty this evening, and I thought the Dubi / AA / DD line did a nice job of making space for themselves against the Nashville forecheck.
- Nick Foligno - Welcome to Columbus. Loved Foligno's presence around the net, and it paid off nicely on his power play goal.
Bottom Of the Barrel:
- Beginnings and Endings - With a sloppy start, the Jackets put themselves in a hole early, and then allowed Nashville to dictate the pace for much of the third period, and as a result they got outshot badlly. Bob did a nice job of keeping them in the game. We may not always be so lucky.
- PK - It's not so much the fact that Nashville scored on their PP opportunity, but the way it happened. Guys were out of position and the Predators were given far too much space to work. The special teams were one of the last things addressed in camp, and I'm sure we'll see them improve, but it's a weakness.
- Nashville Media - Full credit to the Nashville fans, but the three stars for this game have me boggled. Sergei Kostitsyn as first star? Martin Erat as second star? If you're going to shun the road team regardless of results, I'd have at least given the second star to Rinne, guys.
The Jackets will return home, enjoy the finest meats and cheeses, and prepare for the home opener against Detroit on Monday evening. Damn, it feels good to finally be able to say that.