"In shield fighting, one moves fast on defense, slow on attack. Attack has the sole purpose of tricking the opponent into a misstep, setting him up for the attack sinister. The shield turns the fast blow, but the slow blade penetrates the shield!"
In their previous match against the Colorado Avalanche, the Blue Jackets had one of their worst games of the season, giving up four goals while being shut out by Semyon Varlamov. The Avalanche used speed and aggression to roll the club over, and that was before Ryan O'Reilly rejoined their lineup.
Despite the Jackets dressing a much thinner defense in this game, in particular the pairing of Dalton Prout and Cody Goloubef, they had a much stronger game plan for this matchup. (Not being on the second night of a back to back + crossing a timezone doesn't hurt either). Limiting the Avalanche to the perimeter and working hard to force the puck out of the neutral zone and deep into the Avs' end, the Blue Jackets played a strong opening period that looked like it was ready to break open when they earned a lengthy 5 on 3 power play with both Shane O'Brien and Milan Hejduk in the box.
Despite (or perhaps because of) Todd Richards calling a timeout to draw up a play for the opportunity, the Jackets seemed to lose the momentum and couldn't generate any chances, losing much of the two man advantage chasing the puck up and down the ice thanks to Colorado clears. Worse, the club lost Artem Anisimov for much of the period when he blocked a shot off his leg and had to head to the locker room for repairs.
After that letdown, the energy seemed to dip, but Colorado was still limited to just five shots in the opening frame, setting up a clean slate for the second period. Even better, Anisimov would be back in the lineup, taking the opening faceoff and turning in a lengthy shift on the PK after Adrian Aucoin was called for a trip in the first minute of the period.
The Jackets had a couple of solid chances, but Varlamov was on point, including a huge doorstop save on Nick Drazenovic, while Sergei Bobrovsky turned aside the few opportunities he was asked to face. Though many were criticizing the Jackets for "slowing down" the game to a "boring" pace, head coach Todd Richards praised the team for their work in neutralizing Colorado's advantages, and Mark Letestu would characterize it as "investing" effort into the game.
Midway through the period, it seemed it was time to start cashing some of those investments in. Dalton Prout would take exception to a Cody McLeod hit and won the TKO by judge's decision, but unfortunately it would be Colorado who took the energy of the fight and converted it into the first goal. P.A. Parenteau fired a long shot from the top of the zone that appeared to be redirected by Matt Duchene and glanced into the net off Sergei Bobrovsky's shoulder. The goal was reviewed due to concerns that Duchene had tipped the puck with a stick above the crossbar, but the official decision was that the puck did not make contact with the stick.
Niki would get up under his own power after play was stopped, and even attempted to stay on the bench, but the Jackets' athletic trainers made the decision to take him out of the game, though head coach Todd Richards said in the post game press conference that Nikitin was able to speak with him and seemed "pretty good", but he wasn't going to make any projections on his ability to play this week until he could consult the medical staff.
Meanwhile, the Jackets would have to finish this game with five defensemen, and that meant putting a lot more responsibility on the shoulders of the kids. Prout, Goldbeef, and Tim Erixon all stepped up to the plate, eating minutes and keeping the Avs from exploiting the reduced defense.
(Yes, we'll also mention that Jared Boll challenged Bordeleau on the ensuing faceoff after the hit, too, but while I suppose you can give him a stick tap for standing up for his teammate, this was a teacup bulldog taking on a bull mastiff. The bulldog may get a few good licks in, as Boll did, but in general he was physically overmatched and seemed to take the worst of the fight.)
Looking for a goal, the Jackets would trail 1-0 to open the third period, but the forwards did a great job of pushing their way into the Colorado zone, with Derek MacKenzie drawing a hooking call early, and Fedor Tyutin managed to turn it into a 5 on 3 when he battled Matt Duchene for the puck and forced the Colorado forward to get his stick up on the Big Russian.
With their second two man advantage of the game, the Jackets needed to score, and they got a little help from an unexpected source. Vinny Prospal would collect the puck at the half wall as the club cycled around the Colorado defense, firing it across the crease where Ryan Johansen was waiting to go for the tap-in. Instead of hitting Johansen's stick, however, the puck hit Ryan O'Reilly's outstretched blade, and redirected past Varlamov for what would be credited as Prospal's 8th of the campaign, and the club's first 5 on 3 goal of the season.
The Jackets would keep pushing, looking to take a lead in regulation, but Varlamov kept up his stellar play against Columbus despite the Avs being outshot 16-5 for the period. There would be some...interesting officiating calls through the final minutes of the period, including an extended 4-on-4 when Shane O'Brien would be called for a trip, and Ryan Johansen for a somewhat head scratching embellishment, and a painfully obvious high stick on Cam Atkinson being ignored despite the young winger needing to be escorted to the bench to get a copiously bleeding cut to his face cleaned up.
60 minutes would not be enough to decide the game, so the clubs would set up for overtime. Once again driving the play hard into the Colorado zone., RJ Umberger would work a 2 on 1 with Nick Foligno, looking to end it, but instead drawing a hooking call on Parenteau when the former Islander decided to disrupt Umberger's shot with a stick between his legs.
In the 4 on 3 power play, Columbus fans nearly suffered a heart attack thanks to Gabriel Landeskog breaking out for a shorthanded opportunity, but fortunately his shot would be blocked by Fedor Tyutin and redirected out of play. Charging back up ice, the Jackets' power play unit started to open fire, including a beautiful move by Erixon to keep the play alive, and finally the puck would make its' way to Anismov in the right faceoff circle. Paitently, Anisimov shuffled, slipped in close, and found the opening he wanted, firing it past an Umberger screen to end the game with the second power play goal of the afternoon. (The goal may get credited to Umberger if the NHL decides it redirected off his body, but for now, it's his sixth of the season and the second OT winner of his career.)
Final Score: Jackets 2 - Avalanche 1 (OT)
- Artem Anisimov - Even if the game winning goal gets credited to Umberger, AA had one hell of a game. Returning from an injury he described as "just" a bone bruise, he played a very strong defensive game, was essential on the PK, and made the game winner possible no matter how the scoring sorts out.
- "The Kids" - Erixon, Prout, and Goloubef were out in all situations, including a VERY interesting look at Erixon and Prout on the second PP unit that I hope we see more of this week. The club needed to lean on them, and they stepped their game up. Also a special mention for Ryan Johansen, who really looked impressive at several points today.
- Sergei Bobrovsky - Bob had a couple of iffy rebounds, but in general he delivered a very solid game. The one goal he gave up wasn't really one you could do much about, and he kept sharp despite a relatively low workload. About time we won a game like this for him.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- The Injury Bug - Thankful as I am about AA returning, it was still a scary moment, and the injury to Nikitin drains an already thin blue line.
- The Time Out - Seriously, I understand why the coach wanted to try and game plan a bit, but the time out had exactly the wrong impact on the game. The Avs were able to get themselves gathered up after being run ragged, and the Blue Jackets' power play unit looked totally lost after the designed play was broken up.
- .....? - Yeah, no, really I can't complain about much else. Maybe a little more finish to some of those opportunities, but it was great to see the team play an opponent hard and finally get rewarded after the frustrations of the last three or four games.
Win or lose, the Jackets played hard today, and I was really pleased with what we saw. More games like this, where the club works hard, challenges opponents, and gets some key scoring, will go a long way towards building more fans in Columbus in the Davidson era.
The Jackets will get to enjoy the win tonight, practice tomorrow, and get back on the horse Tuesday, when the Edmonton Oilers come rolling in. The good news here is that their strengths are quite similar to Colorado's, so perhaps a similar game plan will bring some equally strong results.