Being a fan of the Columbus Blue Jackets living in Fort Wayne, Indiana, it was a tough move to Virginia Beach from the sports fan vantage point. Thankfully, the new divisional alignment will allow myself to make the 3 hour trek to Raleigh, NC a few times to see the Jackets. Though it was a preseason game, it was exciting to see hockey in person again.
We bought excellent tickets on Stubhub and sat between goal line and face-off dots, 3rd row from the glass on the side the Jackets attack twice. Just under $20 a ticket was a great bargain for a preseason game.
The trip was easy with little to no traffic. PNC Arena is located several miles from downtown and has a massive parking lot which was controlled very well. Easy in, easy out, just the way I like it.
Mingling with other fans and Arena/Hurricanes employees was a great experience. Everyone was extremely friendly and not once did I encounter anyone who was heckling or a bad sport. For that, I thank the Carolina Hurricanes and their fan base for the hospitality.
On top of that, there were at a minimum 10 other Blue Jackets fans in attendance, a couple of which we had a great talk with in line to enter.
Onto the game...
Alexander Semin kicked off the scoring with a power play goal early in the first. This is where I first noticed how tired Columbus was. Remember, they played a pair of split squad games the previous night, one of which was in Minnesota. The defense was extremely slow to loose pucks and showed no initiative. 1-0 Canes.
Just 30 seconds later, Tim Erixon took a pass from Marian Gaborik at the point, faked a shot and hit a wide open Boone Jenner on the goal mouth to tie the game. Everyone bit on the fake and Jenner got into great position. 1-1 tie.
Teams in the East have to know you don't allow Gaborik to get open right? This time it was Nikita Nikitin at the point and I swear it was the exact same fake pass that Erixon made, this time to a wide open Gaborik. Gabby shelved a puck past a sprawling Cam Ward and it was 2-1 Jackets after the first period.
The second period is where the defense crumbled completely. The Hurricanes got three goals from Jeremy Welsh, Semin, and Eric Staal in a 4:30 span and it was 4-2 Carolina. This also signaled the end of the night for Curtis McElhinney. While McElhinney wasn't by any means at fault, it was close to the midway point of the game and a good time to get Mike McKenna some playing time.
At this point, the Jackets were getting beaten in every facet of the game, including shots. I believe it was 24-9 shots on goal in favor of the Hurricanes at this point.
Hard work on the power play by Nick Foligno paid off later in the period however. Some excellent puck control kept a puck alive and Boone Jenner picked it up and found Ryan Johansen to make it 4-3. For the record, Johansen clearly got bigger in the offseason. This guy needs to use his size to his advantage and it didn't seem like something he was doing.
Jackets were down a single goal after two periods despite being outshot 26-15.
Almost everyone in our section was expecting Ward's night to be finished but he came back out in the 3rd. Good thing he did because for the rest of the game, he was Carolina's best player.
Very early in the third period, the Canes defense allowed Gaborik to get open, and once again they paid. Gaborik had all day in the slot where he is deadly and he tied it 4-4.
The Jackets poured on the shots and it appeared they found those missing legs from the first two periods. It was pure domination as Ward was forced to make save after save. Sean Collins put the Jackets up on a wrist shot to make it 5-4.
Even then, Columbus did not let up. They even managed to get shots on goal to 31-30 at one point.
With about six minutes remaining, Nikitin took a slap shot to the ankle that stopped play. He hobbled off in obvious pain so hopefully nothing serious.
It wasn't until Gaborik took a tripping penalty with 4:02 to go that the Hurricanes made a serious effort to tie the game. The defense stood tall and McKenna turned aside everything he faced, all the way to the final buzzer. Jackets win 5-4.
I was excited to see young Kerby Rychel playing tonight but he barely got ice time and I don't believe I saw him in the third period at all.
Marian Gaborik - Two goals and an assist. He really led the offense tonight. Sitting as close as we were, you can see just how much better he is than those around him.
Boone Jenner - This man needs to make the club. He is an absolute spark plug who hustles on every play. He finds a way to get open and he makes the most of his opportunities. He had a goal and an assist.
Brandon Dubinsky - He quietly had three assists including the game tying and game winning goals. Dubinsky made everyone around him look better. He also had ten shots on goal.
Nick Foligno - Two assists and he gave my 3 year old son a puck during warmups.
Bottom of the Barrel:
Columbus Defense - It's early in training camp and there were two split squad games the previous night, but the defense was so lax and so porous, it's a miracle they only allowed four goals. This is a team built on defense so it was nice the offense picked them up. It also helped the McKenna made all 12 saves he needed to.
Alex Aleardi - If I'm making cuts today, he's the first to go. So many noticeable mistakes were made by Aleardi in the way of turnovers and bad decisions. With Rychel, his ice time diminished in the third as well.
Road game on the end of a back to back, this was a surprisingly awesome result. The offense carried the team to victory. I know it's preseason. I know the game didn't matter. However, this is a divisional opponent who played their starting goalie the whole game and a majority of their main roster. Having seen this game as well as the game against Pittsburgh on Sunday on NHL Network, I'm extremely excited for what the season has to offer...and I haven't seen Bobrovsky play yet.
Also, thanks again to everyone in Raleigh who made our game experience a fine one.