With the Jackets ready to start the season on Friday against the Sharks, it was time for the final exhibition game - a match against the Malmo Redhawks in southern Sweden.
With the Jackets bringing the full 23 man roster, and Malmo icing a roster without several key players (including their leading scorer and starting goaltender), this had all the makings of a trap game, especially with the Jackets having to fly into Malmo only a few hours before the game.
Indeed, the Redhawks came out flying after the national anthems finished, putting a great deal of pressure on the Blue Jackets even as the CBJ attempted to adjust to the wider and shorter European ice. (The Stockholm Globe, where they've been practicing since arriving in Sweden, has been configured into a NHL regulation rink.)
Malmo had some good chances early, including a puck that was dangerously misplayed by the Jacket defense back into the crease, but Steve Mason was on his game, reacting smoothly and sharply, never losing track of the puck. Keeping a clean sheet through the first, the Jackets had some issues with getting their passes back and forth cleanly because of the wider ice sheet. Finally, the team began to click, and Kris Russell would make a nice turnover and drive up ice to the net before being tripped and drawing the game's first penalty midway through the first. Once the Jackets PP went to work, the team began to put things together, and though they could not convert on the first penalty, they quickly drew a second man advantage, and this time they would make good on the opportunity.
Antoine Vermette would take a good feed from Derick Brassard into the slot, and fired a shot past young Malmo goalie Jonathan Bjuro to crack the scoring.
For the remainder of the first period, the Jackets increased the pressure, and both teams pulled off several end to end rushes, but the score would remain 1-0 in favor of the Jackets after the first 20 minutes.
Going into the second period, the Jackets seemed to turn on the jets, and didn't look back.
Antoine Vermette would score his second goal of the game on a bang-bang play within the first few minutes of the period, taking a feed from Rick Nash that was eerily similar to his power play tally, the pass coming from the half boards up into the circles and firing the puck into the waiting net.
A few minutes later, Jakub Voracek would poke the puck free from the Redhawks along the Malmo bench, slide down the boards and behind the Malmo net, then deliver a sick wraparound shot, poking the puck through the corner of the net for a 3-0 lead.
Finally, Mike Commodore would put an exclamation point on the period, sneaking in on a play from the blue line down to almost the same spot that Vermette had scored from earlier, taking a pass from Brassard and hammering it in on a wicked slap shot.
From there, though Malmo would continue to push back against the Jackets, they would be unable to deliver anything before Steve Mason exchanged places with Mathieu Garon in goal, and the period would end with the Jackets up 4-0.
With Garon in net and Malmo down a four spot, the team relaxed a bit in the fourth period, and were burned slightly as a result. With Rusty Klesla in the penalty box, the Redhawks' Robin Alvarez would redirect a Tomas Larsson point shot past Garon on the power play, giving Malmo a point for pride...and a chance to play their goal song, which turned out to be Chelsea Dagger, the song that will apparently haunt us no matter where we go.
Oh, well. It could have been worse.
News came through during the third period that D-man Kris Russell had been shut down for the night by Coach Arniel due to Russell complaining of "tweaking" the knee some time during the first period.
Jackets fans would have an ever greater scare with just over five minutes left in the game when Rusty Klesla played the puck along the boards while being pursued by Malmo's Nicklas Hardt, and Hardt took Klesla into the boards while the Czech defenseman had his head down, slamming his head into the top of the boards. Klesla dropped for several minutes, but he finally made his way to the bench with the help of a trainer to steady himself.
The game would get even chippier from there, with several players attempting to push Derek Dorsett and Jared Boll into fighting, but the team would clamp down and hang on.
Final score: Jackets Win, 4-1.
Antoine Vermette: The 'Twan has been one of the top performers for the Jackets all pre-season, and this final exhibition match was no exception. Vermette made good plays and showed great anticipation, knowing just where to be to deliver the puck or receive the set-up passes from his linemates.
Derick Brassard: Continuing where he left off from a strong game against the Thrashers on Saturday, the game seems to be slowing back down for Brass. Though Malmo did not provide a full box score, he did appear to be winning a good chunk of his faceoffs, moved the puck well today, and set up two goals today with great passing plays. He showed solid vision on the ice, and was one of the first forwards to start making solid passes as he adjusted to the bigger ice.
Mike Commodore: Aside from entertaining us with his photography, Deuces had a great game, regularly skating the puck out of the zone and breaking up passes. His pinch and shoot play in the second period was a textbook example of what Arniel is hoping to see from the team's D this season, and he had a couple other nice opportunities today. Commodore seems ready for the demands of the new system.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
Chris Clark: I know Clark dressed for this game, and I saw him take a few shifts, but I wasn't able to say much else. A totally unremarkable game.
Rusty Klesla: Aside from his injury scare, Klesla still seemed slow and often out of position. I'm really wondering about his recovery from last year's injury.
The Swedes: I was really expecting Stralman, Huselius, and Pahlsson to have a big game in front of their "home crowd", but they ended not being huge factors today. Perhaps they'll turn things up on Friday.
The Blue Jackets will take on the Sharks to open the regular season on Friday at the Stockholm Globe at 3pm EST. The game will be on Versus in the US and TSN in Canada. The Jackets will have an official viewing party at B.C. Rooster's on Olentangy River Road, and QFM 96 will host a viewing party at the R-Bar at the same time.