Coming into tonight, both head coaches were asked about the game. Scott Arniel was asked if he expected a "Confrontational" win. His answer was telling of the attitude that the new coaching staff has worked to bring to the Blue Jackets' locker room:
"Any time you have two young teams, divisional opponents, I would hope so. I’m not talking about fisticuffs, I’m talking about every chance we get running over them on the forecheck and defensively getting after them."
St. Louis Blues head coach Davis Payne, on the other hand, had a simpler answer for what he expected tonight out of his team:
"This is a statement game."
Both were correct, but not quite in the way Payne intended.
Facing a St. Louis team that had not lost since October 16th, the mood was set before anyone stepped on the ice - apparently as the Blue Jackets and Blues warmed up before the game with a little soccer, some players from both teams watching the action got to chirping each other, and there was what St. Louis radio & TV analyst Darren Pang described as "a heated exchange."
From the drop of the puck, it was clear the Jackets were out for blood - the team was aggressively chasing after the puck, and started to put pressure on Jaroslav Halak. The Jackets had 6 shots on goal before the Blues registered a shot on Steve Mason.
Then, as the Blues attempted to muster an attack, Rick Nash stole the puck down low in front of his own net, fed up to a waiting Derick Brassard, who sprung Jakub Voracek on a breakaway.
Remember how we mentioned that Halak doesn't do well when forced to go one on one with the shooter?
He still doesn't. Jake roofed it high glove side, and the Jackets were off to a 1-0 lead that they'd never look back from.
St. Louis would try to respond, including a great chance by T. J. Oshie, but Steve Mason was on his game tonight, making good saves early to keep the energy rolling.
A few minutes later on a fairly routine shift, Jared Boll took the puck deep into the St. Louis zone and threw it on net...and to his great surprise, the puck banged off Halak's inside leg pad and into the net. 2-0 Jackets.
The pressure continued to escalate, and just past the 16 minute mark the Jackets' top line broke into the St. Louis zone. Brassard and Methot had a near-goal-experience with a beautiful goal mouth pass that Halak just got his leg pad out to save, but Brassard would recover the puck behind the net and got it to a waiting Rick Nash in the high slot (remember how we mentioned the Blues keep getting scored on from the High Slot?) who fired it past Halak before the goaltender could recover from his diving save, and the game was now 3-0.
The Jackets would go to the locker room with an enthusiastically cheering crowd and a three goal lead, and a quiet question beginning to rumble around both the team's fans and the hockey literati: Would this be the night that the Jackets finally scored more than three goals in a game?
Voracek would answer that question just a few minutes into the second period. Playing off a line change with Brassard and Kyle Wilson, the trio would battle for the puck against the Blues before Wilson poke-checked the puck into open neutral zone ice, and Jake raced for it, taking the puck and launching himself on a breakaway.
This time he'd wait for Halak to go down, anticipating the shot, then put the puck into the net with a backhander, launching Halak's water bottle skyward, and triggering the end of the night for the Slovakian goaltender, as he would be pulled in favor of Ty Conklin with the Blues down 4-0.
Though Conklin was tested early, particularly on a great goal-line attempt by Antoine Vermette, he'd stand tall after coming on in relief, and despite an attempt by David Backes to get his team going by ingloriously provoking Marc Methot into a brief scrap, it would be nothing doing until just before the 11 minute mark. A routine clear by Tyutin didn't have enough juice on it, and Vladimir Sobotka would intercept the puck, taking the first shot on Mason, who slid sideways out of his crease to stop it, but couldn't nab the rebound. Kris Russell attempted to shoo the puck out of danger, but B. J. Crombeen would be able to get a stick onto it and tap it into the net, putting the Blues onto the board.
After the goal, Crombeen and Dorsett began to chirp each other and started to stick-check at the ensuing faceoff, and both would be sent to the penalty boxes, bringing the game to 4-on-4 hockey.
It wouldn't take long for the Jackets to take advantage - in fact, it only took about ten seconds.
After battling for the faceoff, Rusty Klesla would scoot the puck into the St. Louis zone, and connect on a pass to Sammy Pahlsson.
Pahlsson noticed Chris Clark cruising up the right side unmolested, and dropped a perfect pass to Clark just north of the face off dot, and he went in on Conklin's glove side with a nice wrister for his 99th career NHL goal, and the Jackets had the four goal lead right back.
After a few more back and forth rushes in the 4-on-4, shortly after the teams returned to full strength the much-maligned second line for the Jackets caught a break with Vermette and Filatov racing up ice on a 2 on 1. Vermette made a beautiful pass for Filatov to attempt the tap-in at the side of the net, but the pass was a bit too hard and went behind the net instead.
Rather than get frustrated or panic, Filatov did just what the team has been asking him to do - he went after the puck and fought his way through Alex Pietrangelo and Ian Cole to get the puck back, then feathered a pass to R. J. Umberger, who had made his way to the high slot.
It turns out Conklin doesn't like the high slot so much, either. 6-1 Jackets.
Riding the 6-1 lead into the third period, the Jackets could have backed off. In fact, before this season, they probably would have backed off.
Instead, they put the hammer down.
A minute and change into the third period, the fourth line battled their way into the St. Louis zone after a faceoff at their blue line. Derek Dorsett shot the puck at Conklin, which rebounded into the corner, and Doors skated after it, popping it up the boards to Sammy Pahlsson.
Pahlsson found Chris Clark with time and space at the faceoff circles, and he slid square to Conklin in the slot before firing off career NHL goal #100, his second of the year and second of the night. 7-1 Jackets.
Likely in a move to get the second line going, Arniel sent them over the boards for the following faceoff, and they simply crashed into the St. Louis zone like a relentless wave. Heading straight for the net after the faceoff, Nikita Filatov would attack the net and be rebuffed, Umberger would grab the rebound and fire it at Conklin, and Vermette would get right into the kitchen and clean up the greasiest rebound you're ever likely to see, laughing as he fell to the ice following a nasty cross-check, the goal horn providing the best analgesic he could ask for.
Oddly enough, this is where it gets interesting.
The Blues turned the "GOON" dial straight to 11, with Nathan Oystrick hacking and whacking at Chris Clark until the veteran decided to give him a taste back after Oystrick punched him in the face. I'd call it a split decision, at best, as it was mostly a hugging match, but Clark did get some nice rabbit punches in on Oystrick's kidneys.
Immediately afterwards, though, it would be Derek Dorsett heading to the penalty box with Clark, as he received a game misconduct for something he said to the Crombeen after the fight (probably along the lines of "Fight me, you chickenshit!", but I'm just speculating), and gave the Ref a solid earful as the box door was closed.
Say, there's a new "Experience enhancer" from HD coverage - you can clearly understand exactly how many ways Dorsett was questioning the ref's parentage, judgement, and moral turpitude. Teach your kids lip reading and a world of interesting new words!
As the two teams got back to the business of hockey, the Jackets would draw a roughing penalty for a bad hit from Cam Janssen on Jake Voracek, and then Janssen would knock Umberger, who had come on as the extra skater, down to the ice after the whistle with a nasty cross-check.
Janssen was assessed a minor for roughing, a minor for cross checking, a game misconduct, and sent to the locker room.
After a lecture from the refs to get the game under control, the Jackets set up for a power play, but it would be the fourth liners' time to shine - a classy gesture from Scott Arniel to recognize their hard work tonight and to indicate that he wasn't going to try to run up the score any further.
The universe, however, didn't seem to appreciate the gesture.
In the final minute of the man advantage, Jake Voracek would attempt to protect the puck from T. J. Oshie and knocked the St. Louis forward onto his back with what I can only describe as a "Butt-check." Unfortunately, the hit came before Oshie had a chance to play the puck, so a penalty was immediately called for interference.
That didn't satisfy David Backes, who attempted to engage Voracek in a fight, and when that failed, dropped the gloves on Jan Hejda, who attempted to protect his teammate and countryman.
Oshie also tried to get involved, and fell to the ice after a mini-scrum with Pahlsson, but had fallen awkwardly and was unable to rise. After the penalties were sorted out, Oshie was helped to the locker room by trainers, and it would later be released that he had broken his ankle in the fall, and will require surgery.
Despite getting out of the shorthanded situation with a 4-on-4 and a brief powerplay afterwards, the Blues were not satisfied, and Brad Boyes would slash R. J. Umberger, attempting to goad him into a fight, before Umberger had his stick lifted and gave Boyes a mouthful of composite. Even as the referees whistled down play, Boyes went after Umberger to drop the gloves, and the two engaged briefly before being sent to the dressing room, while Filatov would serve Umberger's double-minor.
Even the 4-on-3 power play this generated would not last, however, as Alex Pietrangelo took a run at Steve Mason on the ensuing attempt to get some kind of satisfaction, and was sent to the box for a goalie interference.
Then, less than a minute later, Oystrick would be back in the box after hi-sticking Jake Voracek, and the referees stopped play to admonish both coaches that any further incidents would result in the game being called.
Though no more goals would be scored (though both Jake and Clark had a couple of chances to complete the hat trick that just didn't quite connect), things seemed to glide down to a slow halt until less than sixteen seconds left to go in the game, when B. J. Crombeen, how had been chasing Dorsett for much of the period, landed a nasty hit along the boards, and the two finally dropped the gloves. Crombeen had a clear height and weight advantage, but Dorsett kept in there, and certainly earned a few points for toughness along the way.
All in all, the message from the Blues was clear: This was game one of the season series, and there will be five more.
But the Jackets returned their own message: "We'll give as good as we get."
Steve Mason - Outside of one goal that nobody could have prevented, Mase played a brilliant game, stopping 29 of 30 shots in the win. It was exactly the kind of game he needed after his poor outing in Colorado, and gave confidence to the team when he made several big stops early.
Derick Brassard - Brass continues his reign of awesome, with three assists tonight.
Nikita Filatov - Antoine Vermette getting off his slide is important, too, but FIlatov's two point night (both assists) were just what he needed for some confidence, and it doesn't hurt that both came out of doing exactly what the team has been drilling into him.
The Whole God-Damned Team - I mean, Really. You go out and blow up a division rival 8-1? Everyone did something right.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
Officials - Not for the penalty calls, but for the lack of them when the Blues really started to thug things up. I think that some of the later game nastiness might have been avoided if they'd given a few more guys the gate, particularly Oystrick.
.....that's about it, really. I mean, seriously, they won 8-1. What am I supposed to complain about?
Other notes: Rick Nash left the game midway through the third period with a "minor" lower body injury - according to coach Arniel he was kept out as a precaution, since the game was well in hand. Due to taking a fighting major in the last five minutes of a game, Derek Dorsett is likely to face a fine from the NHL, but he did not receive an instigator, and as such should not receive a suspension. For the first time this season, every player on the roster saw at least 11 minutes of ice time.
The Jackets will be back in action Friday, against the Colorado Avalanche, at Nationwide Arena. The puck drops at 7pm.
For your parting thought, I leave you with perhaps the comment of the night from the Game Thread:
Let it be said, that tonight happened.
Even on days when our team loses, gets shut out, or fails to live up to expectations,
Nothing else related to the Blue Jackets will ever feel quite as bad again with the memory of the game today to look back on.