The first preseason game got off to a rough start in Columbus. After Brandon Dubinsky hammered Beau Bennett at the top of the Blue Jackets' zone, the puck squirted back towards the Columbus net, past a surprised set of defenders, and James Neal walked in and cooly snapped it past Curtis McIlhenny on his first shot of the game.
Fortunately, even though the Penguins took the initiative, the Jackets would draw a hooking call that allowed them to get their feet under them, and Nikita Nikitin unleashed a blast near the end of the power play that Artem Anisimov would tip past Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game.
That was the end of the good news for much of the period, however, as Pittsburgh would surge back, dominating possession in the Columbus end before a post-power play scramble saw Chuck Kobasew put the visitors back on top.
The Penguins seemed like they would hold, or perhaps even extend their lead before the first intermission, but a pair of penalties to Pierre-Luc LeTourneau-LeBlond and Tanner Glass gave Columbus a 5-on-3 advantage late, and James Wisniewski would end up blasting a shot from the point to tie things up once again before the period came to a close.
The team seemed to settle down in the second period, keeping Pittsburgh from turning the game into a track meet, and neither side would get a goal past their starting netminders, though the Jackets continued to be outshot 26-12 after 40 minutes.
In the third period, Oscar Dansk and Jeff Zatkoff would take to the ice for their respective clubs, and perhaps the Blue Jackets got a bit too comfortable early. Killing an early penalty, Ryan Murray misjudged a move by Dustin Jeffrey, giving the journeyman a clear shooting lane which he took advantage of to give the visitors yet another lead.
Instead of letting the Penguins set a higher tempo, however, this time the Jackets responded by increasing their own intensity, perhaps sparked when Ilari Melart got into a wrestling match with Adam Payerl following the Pittsburgh winger colliding with Dansk in the crease.
The fire was particularly evident in the third line of Blake Comeau, Mark Letestu, and Jack Skille, who had spent most of the game challenging the Malkin / Neal / Various line. Taking the puck away from #71, Skille would lead a hard charge into the Pittsburgh zone and driving to the net. His shot would go off Zatkoff's pads, but Comeau would get the puck back through traffic towards the goal, and Letestu cleaned up the second rebound, squeaking it past the former Miami of Ohio netminder.
Almost as soon as the crowd had sat back down from that goal celebration, James Wisniewski would spring Cam Atkinson on a rush, and the Little Engine that Did struck with a lightning quick wrist shot to give Columbus their first lead of the night.
Columbus held their ground and looked like they might have an opportunity to extend the lead on a power play opportunity a few minutes later, but their best opportunity was an Anisimov shot that skirted just wide. Unfortunately, that opened the door for Malkin to draw an interference call on Cody Goloubef a few minutes later, and Kobasew would carry the mail once again late in the man advantage, whacking a puck past Dansk when the young netminder failed to seal his pads against the ice.
Columbus responded again, including another emotional boost after James Wisniewski was knocked around after the whistle by Joe Vitale, and responded by pounding him. (The video shows Wiz knocking Vitale's hat off, but you can't really see clearly that the helmet ended up flying a few feet before landing, which the crowd warmly appreciated.)
The Jackets' surge of momentum allowed them to draw another power play towards the end of regulation, but bad luck and some iffy calls with the puck kept them from capitalizing, so the fans at Nationwide were treated to some bonus hockey.
Columbus had the better of the extra time, clearly pushing a Pittsburgh defense that was starting to tire thanks to the speed of guys like Gaborik, Anisimov, Atkinson, and Dubinsky, but the hero of the evening almost became the goat.
Ryan Murray had been generally solid in his first professional game, but a misread of the play early in OT saw him handing the puck not to a teammate, but to James Neal, who charged in on Dansk and (fortunately) shot wide. He would receive a chance for redemption, however, when Letestu and Umberger charged into the Pittsburgh zone late in the extra period, and Umby delivered a textbook drop pass back to the young defenseman, who hammered it home for his first professional goal and first professional game winner.
Even in pre-season, that had to have been a nice feeling, and the appreciative cheers of the fans certainly didn't hurt.
- Ryan Murray - I saw some pretty decent potential in Murray, who generally kept up with the play, but I would say (and a few other friends watching agreed) that he isn't doing a great job of protecting himself when he's not carrying the puck. I suspect he might get a "Welcome to the NHL" hit if he's not more careful.
- Cam Atkinson - Cam worked hard all evening, earning a promotion up to the Gaborik / AA line, and his speed was a big part of the Jackets getting their feet back under them and pushing back into the game. (Plus, man, that goal. I sure hope we get some video of that soon.)
- James Wisniewski - Preseason or not, Wiz racked up a Gordie Howe Hat Trick, and I'd argue that he was a big part of the team jacking up their compete level after getting a bit shell-shocked early.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- Cody Goloubef - Goldbeef did some good things, but I generally felt like he was one of the weaker d-men tonight, and bad reads lead directly to at least one Pittsburgh goal.
- Weak Start - The Jackets really didn't "click" until about halfway through this game, and their early goals were more about individual efforts and the man advantage than a product of driving the play. From what I caught of the post-game, it sounds like Coach Richards agreed with me on that.
- Adjustments - In addition to feeling a bit like the chemistry wasn't there tonight, you could tell some guys were still in a "Junior Hockey / Minor League" mode. Passes were a bit too forced, some plays tried to get a bit too cute, and even players who should know better (*cough* Nikitin *cough*) were telegraphing shots and looking for "perfect" passing or shooting lanes instead of getting to work and forcing Pittsburgh to deal with the traffic.
I'm trying not to read too much into any of this. It's pre-season, it's early, and while I don't think either team put out a creampuff roster, they weren't anywhere near a final form, either. As it is, fans from both teams got a great show, and Columbus got a nice story out of the deal. The much-heralded rookie gets to make up for his earlier mistake and finds the game winner. Not a bad start at all.