As the NHL prepares for the Olympic shutdown, it's a bit strange that the Jackets had four days off, last playing on Monday night. Heading into tonight's game, the good guys were riding a four-game winning streak, looking to make it five in a row against division-rival Washington.
It's January, so that means we can keep a keen eye on the standings without being told it's "too soon". Prior to tonight's matchup, the Jackets (6th in the Metro) were just four points back of the Caps (4th in the Metro), and just five points back of the idle Flyers and Rangers, who are second and third in the division, respectively.
The Jackets were down a top-four defenseman to start the game, as Fedor Tyutin was out due to illness. Combine that with the sluggish start to the game on behalf of the home team, and this one sure looked like a streak-beater for the first while.
In what should come as no surprise given the long layoff, the Jackets came out flat, disorganized, and couldn't match the speed of the Capitals. One of the top priorities when facing the Caps this year is to avoid the sin bin- and right when things were looking completely messy, Corey Tropp took a charging penalty. Luckily for the Jackets rookie Tom Wilson retaliated, putting the teams four-on-four.
Just seconds after the subsequent faceoff, Cam Atkinson drew a penalty as he made a strong push toward the opposition net. While four-on-three, Columbus coach Todd Richards deployed the quartet of Ryan Johansen and Nathan Horton up front, and Controlled-Effing-Chaos on the points.
With Horton setting the screen, James Wisniewski, comprising half of Controlled Chaos along with Jack Johnson, was fed a perfect one-time pass. The one-timer had eyes, and blasted its way past Washington starter Philipp Grubauer for Wisniewski's first powerplay goal of the season.
Funny eh, given the strong offensive season that Wiz is having, that it took this long to get his first powerplay marker. A PP specialist, he is not. A true offensive blueliner, he most certainly is.
1-0 Jackets: Wisniewski - Johnson, Johansen
It's a true indication of a good hockey team when a squad can play like shit and still go into the first intermission with the lead. The Jackets did just that, thanks to the Wiz goal, and a late snipe by Cam Atkinson. In the final minute of the period, Brandon Dubinsky, the anchor of his line with the Atkinverts flanking him, threw a shot on-net. Grubauer failed to smother it, and sticks were hacking at the loose puck with reckless abandon, with Atkinson's finding positive contact with the rubber, depositing it into the Washington net.
2-0 Jackets: Atkinson - Calvert, Dubinsky
The late goal, as is almost always the case, gave the team a huge boost, and that carried over through the intermission, and into the second period.
Under two minutes in to the middlle frame, the home team avoided the worst lead in hockey by going up by three goals, off the stick of Ryan Johansen. R.J. Umberger, who in this writer's mind has gone from total buyout candidate to core veteran thanks to his play this year, entered the zone with possession. He waited, and waited, until the right moment. That moment was when the trailer, in this case Johansen, entered the zone. Umberger fed him with a perfect pass, which the breakout star translated into a wicked wrister, beating and chasing Grubauer from the game.
3-0 Jackets: Johansen - Umberger
Midway through the period the Caps managed to beat Columbus starter Sergei Bobrovsky to cut the lead to two goals. It was a prototypical greaser. John Carlson lobbed the puck toward the Columbus net from the point, where it seemed to be redirected, rendering it unsaveable on behalf of The Bob.
3-1 Jackets: Carlson - Erat, Brouwer
That's right, Erat earned the primary assist. The guy can't stay in the Washington lineup, but he makes a cameo against the Jackets and is STILL a Jacket-killer. I really hope he gets dealt into a good situation, he's a talented player who needs the right team. There's been talk of Phoenix having interest, but if I'm the LA Kings or Ottawa Senators, I go after him.
With 3:57 left in the second, Booooone Jenner was whistled for goaltender interference, and we all held our collective breath as the league's second-best powerplay went to work. At one point while on the kill, one Alexander Ovechkin found himself alone in front of the net with the puck on his stick. Goal, right? Negative. His Sochi teammate Comrade Bobrovsky used his standard-issue trapper to deny the NHL's goal-scoring leader. A too-much-man penalty put the Jackets down two men, but the penalty killers came up huge to maintain the two-goal lead. Near the end of the period, while still down, hard work by Umberger drew a penalty.
The Jackets started the third period on the powerplay. I don't have any numbers to back this up, but I have always found that partial powerplays to start a period seem kind of ineffective.
No matter, because on this night the Jackets took advantage of this powerplay to full effect. The red-hot super-utlityman Mark Letestu took a feed from Horton, wiring the puck past Braden Holtby to put his team up by three.
4-1 Jackets: Letestu - Horton, Johnson
Later in the period, Ovechkin took a careless cross-checking penalty. The Caps were able to kill the man advantage, but just as the penalty expired, Atkinson received the puck just outside of the hashmarks, turned, and fired the puck into the net for his second goal of the game.
5-1 Jackets: Atkinson - Murray, Nikitin
The Jackets locked it down for the rest of regulation. The four lines were rotated to end the game, with Tropp standing out in the final few minutes. He was bringing energy, physical play, and he showed us all again what kind of hands he possesses.
FINAL SCORE: 5-1 Jackets
1) Cam Atkinson spent some time on the fourth line recently. Since then, he's been on fire and has moved up with Dubinsky and Calvert. Two goals on this night, and we have our CamJam back.
2) Jack Johnson is still contributing since his Olympic snub. Just effing try to argue with me. I'm ready, stat geeks. Corsi and Fenwick are tools, not the final determining factor of a player's contributions.
3) Looks like Ryan Johansen is in full beast mode on a permanent basis.
4) Bob was there to let the guys in front of him get away with playing sloppy in the opening frame.
BOTTOM OF THE BARREL
1) I really don't like this section after a big win, but I have one player who didn't look strong- Dalton Prout. He's been bounced around this week, but he was turning the puck over and making poor decisions with the puck, especially early in the game. I think he needs an extended stay in Springfield to regain his confidence.
ADVANCED STATS FOR THE GAME: EXTRA SKATER
The Jackets look to make it six straight wins tomorrow night when they face the Sabres.