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Pre-Season Game 4 Recap: Jackets Go Down Swinging

After stomping hard on the Atlanta Thrashers to open the pre-season, the Jackets registered their third straight exhibition loss last night against the Penguins in the new CONSOL energy center, going down by a score of 3-1.

So, in game three, with rosters full of checkers and pluggers, I predicted a lot of scrapping, hitting, and a fight or two - so we got a 5-4 barn-burner and a hat trick. 

In game four, we saw both teams icing serious offensive firepower (Nash, Crosby, Malkin, Voracek), I predicted another back and forth offensive game, and so of course we get a relatively low scoring affair with no less than five fights!

If we have learned nothing else this pre-season, it is that I should not be allowed to make predictions.

With the game only on local radio or a web stream, it's difficult to give a great review, but all indications are that the Jackets continued the plan of skating hard and aggressively, and unlike Friday night, this time the plan paid off early, generating the first of seven powerplays on the night in the first two minutes of play. Though the Jackets would go dry with the man advantage, at just past the 12 minute mark in the period Derick Brassard would drive to the net off a broken play, fire at Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, and Michael Ratchuk would pinch in to blast the rebound back into the net over the Penguin netminder, giving the Jackets a 1-0 lead. 

Despite the teams trading power play chances, that score would hold through the first period despite the Jackets being outshot and giving up a number of losses in the faceoff circle. Last night's lineup had Brassard, Johansen, MacKenzie, and Frischmon taking faceoffs against the Pens, and they struggled mightily, winning all of four faceoffs in the first period, and winning less than 30% on the night.

Despite that difficulty, though, the team was able to kill a penalty to open the second period, then continued to generate pressure on the Penguin defense, with Nikita Filatov getting in a scrum at the Penguin crease with Kris Letang before Matt Calvert and Letang would drop the gloves on the ensuing faceoff. The Jackets looked to be taking the 1-0 lead into the third period, but a late turnover by Michael Ratchuk below the net inside the Jackets' defensive zone allowed Pascal Dupuis to steal the puck and beat Mason to the stick side. 

The Jackets would attempt to respond, including a Nash - Brassard - Voracek 3 on 1 breakaway in the dying minute of the period, but the Flower stood on his petals and kept the Jackets from being able to get back on top. The Jackets would take a 14-13 lead in shots, and Brooks Orpik would find himself back in the box to start the third period.

The Jackets kept moving the puck well and getting several chances, but nothing got past Fleury. Finally, after several sets of back and forth counterattacks, Evgeni Malkin was able to stuff a puck past Mason after a scramble in front of the net with heavy traffic in the crease. 

The Jackets would try to counterattack and up their physical play before another fight broke out - this time between Jake Voracek and Letang. It was Jake's first career NHL fight, and only his third all time, but he stood his ground, even if Letang got the best of him. 

Fight #4 would take place soon after, with Tim Wallace going after Derek Dorsett, and Dorsett giving him the business. 

The Jackets took a jump from the fights and even managed to draw another penalty, this time on Sidney Crosby, but their efforts continued to be fruitless. The Jackets would continue to press, but were forced back and Steve Mason eventually took a hooking call (?) on Mark Letestu, tilting the momentum back to the Pens. After killing the penalty and making a big save on Crosby, the Pens won the ensuing faceoff and Arron Asham scored his second in two nights, taking the game to 3-1. 

Attempting to spark his team, Rick Nash dropped the gloves with Malkin, (or, as one Twitterati put it, "105.9m throwing punches") but got tangled in his jersey, giving the big Russian a fairly clear win on that bout.

The Jackets would draw one final late penalty, pulling Mason for the extra attacker with a minute to go in the game, but time would run out on this one, and the Pens celebrated going 2-0 in their new building.

So, what do we take away from this?

Let me refer you back to last night's game thread:

Even if we lose this game, the Jackets have been skating with the Pens all night, and giving as good as they get on the ice and in physical play. Call this another show of how the new look Jackets could be very, very dangerous this season.

If there’s one flaw, it’s the PP and penalties, but Arniel did say that’s something they intend to really work once they solidify the roster. 

In hindsight, I think I might have said faceoffs were an issue, too, but I think the point still stands.

The end result could have been better, but I think there's still a lot to like about a patchwork squad (particularly the defense), holding one of the top power plays in the NHL off the board, shutting down Crosby, and giving as good or better as they got in physical play. 

I'm hoping (desperately) that the Power Play and faceoff draws will be one of the next major areas the team will work on as they trim down the roster - fix those, and I think we've got something exciting for the boys in Union Blue.

Standard Bearers: 

David Savard - Every time I heard Savard's name last night, it was because he was doing something right. Breaking up passes, getting the puck up the ice, and cycling the puck from points to forwards on the power play. Logging another 23 minutes of ice time, he continues to be a workhorse in the pre-season. I'm starting to wonder if he may find himself visiting Sweden.

Rick Nash - Though he was held scoreless, Nash was hustling all night, including leading two shorthanded breakaways during the PK. We've talked about wanting to see more fire out of the captain, and I'd say that taking on Malkin was some of that coming through.

Fedor Tyutin - Tyutin needed a better game after his poor showing against the Capitals, and he delivered. He was a big part of the PK, forced turnovers, registered 3 shots on goal, and played 19 minutes last night. Keep that up, and he'll stay out of the dog house.

Bottom Of The Barrel: 

Mike Ratchuk - On one hand, joining the rush, taking the puck off the rebound and scoring: Exactly what Arniel has been asking the D to work towards. On the other hand, sloppy turnovers, lazy penalties, and costing us a goal will get you on the hot seat in any system.

Ryan Johansen - Things came back to earth for Johansen tonight. Though he was able to move the puck around, and it sounds like he had some good passes in an attempt to make plays, he only won two faceoffs last night, got pushed around in some of the more physical play, and only had one shot on goal despite 4 minutes of power play time and 16 minutes of overall ice time. Not terrible, but clearly things could have gone better.

Nate Guenin / John Moore - After Guenin's big night in Atlanta, and the excitement of pairing him with the mobile Moore...this pair really fizzled. On the one hand, they didn't allow any goals while they were on the ice, and generated four shots on goal between them, but I just didn't hear that much about either player contributing to the offense last night - or to the rest of the game, for that matter. 

Maybe when I get a chance to watch the game later on the NHL network replay, I'll change my mind, but for right now, that's where things stand. 

The Jackets have today off (and will be making additional roster cuts), will practice Monday, and take on the Minnesota Wild Tuesday at 7pm.