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The Jackets' road woes continued as a frustrating effort ended in a 4-0 shutout courtesy of Semyon Varlamov and the Colorado Avalanche, but there may be hints of improvement underneath it all.
Unfortunately, even though Sergei Bobrovsky was given the start, things seemed to be right back on the same page as Steve Mason's outing when P.A. Parenteau took advantage of lots of guys watching the puck, and nobody covering the right side of the ice. One slick feed from Matt Duchene and a quick wrister put the Avalanche up before most fans in the Pepsi Center had settled into their seats.
Once again, the Jackets had a lot of problems with turnovers and passing, allowing the Avalanche to dominate possession in the offensive zone until they found the matchup they wanted against the reshuffled fourth line. A misstep by Mark Letestu allowed Matt Duchene to open up the ice, grabbing a feed from Chuck Kobasew and firing his first goal of the year from the top of the slot.
The Jackets had an opportunity to get back into the game when Ryan Wilson was sent to the box for a hold off the following faceoff, but Brandon Dubinsky would be called for a crosscheck and issued a second minor for unsportsmanlike conduct after he argued the call, shattering the momentum.
A bizarre sequence of errors for Colorado culminated in a goaltender interference call on Jan Hejda that erased much of the double minor, and eventually Dubinsky would exit the box, only to return in the closing minute of the period after challenging Jamie McGinn to a rousing bout of fisticuffs following a nasty hit on Artem Anisimov.
The combination of Vinny Prospal, Ryan Johansen, and Matt Calvert was one of the most promising efforts on the night, but even their drive around the net could not break through, though Calvert and Johansen had some of the team's best opportunities on the night.
Outshooting the Avs 23-20 after 40 minutes, it felt like the team could turn the corner if just one puck would hit the net, but the breaks simply wouldn't go Columbus' way, and a goal from John Mitchell would seal the deal long before Duchene hammered home his second of the night.
Despite that, there were good things. The Prospal - Johan - Calvert line was driving chances all night. We found the club fighting their way to drawing penalties pretty consistently, and the PK delivered under some pretty extreme duress. Watching Nick Foligno drive to the net and some of the impressive "near miss" moments showed that this team CAN make things happen if they can just find their finish.
I admit, this really isn't much, but the mix of experience, conditioning, and familiarity is hurting every club in the NHL right now. It's a boat nearly every club is in (ask a Toronto fan about the mental whiplash of stomping Pittsburgh in their own barn only to give up 7 unanswered goals to the Islanders), but the Jackets have put themselves in a tough spot. Not only do they have to fly home to Columbus tonight and deal with the time change, they'll also be facing a fired up Blackhawks club on Saturday who have yet to lose a game this season.
If things don't improve, one wonders what John Davidson may start to consider.
- Ryan Johansen - The Johan had some of the best scoring chances of the night, and was pretty clearly motivated, hitting, passing, and working hard in the faceoff circle. He just couldn't quite break through.
- Matt Calvert - Starting the night on the fourth line, Calvert was quickly moved up to play with Prospal and Johansen in place of the injured Cam Atkinson, and his hustle was an instant fit. I want to see more of that line, especially if coach Richards can get some better matchups on home ice.
- Sergei Bobrovsky - I think Bob will tell you he wants the first goal back (to say nothing of the second, third, or fourth), but this game would have been out of reach long before the third period if he hadn't tried to pull the club back into the contest.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- R. J. Umberger - Umby, we love you, but you need to show up. As good as it was for you to work with OSU, I can't help but wonder if your skills would be a lot sharper if you'd gone to Europe and played somewhere during the lockout.
- Power Play - Good god in the foothills, guys. We aren't cycling, we aren't keeping the zone, and we aren't getting good net traffic. Relentlessly trying to pop point shots (that mostly miss wide) isn't going to make any opposing PKers nervous, especially if we don't seem to have any plans to work around shot blockers.
- Defense - None of the defensive pairings covered themselves in glory tonight. Turnovers, mental lapses, missed shots, bad decisions, you name it, they did it. I'm not even sure this was an AHL caliber performance tonight.
Much needs done before Saturday. Looks to me like Eli's Comin'.