"Ladies and gentlemen, pimps and playas / Half ass rappers and true rhyme sayers / This is the Carter, so hold onto your teenage daughter / Because this is the Carter, a lot more rich and a whole lot smarter / Wayne in ya brain young Carter"
--"This Is The Carter" by Lil Wayne (w/ Mannie Fresh)
The question heading into this game was centered around whether or not the Blue Jackets' win on Saturday in Nashville was sign of a turning point in this heretofore dreadful season, or a mere mirage of the team we all thought we were getting at the start of the season.
There wasn't much doubt that it was Curtis Sanford's show to continue running, since Steve Mason was injured in the morning skate. Seriously, being a Jackets goalie of late has been not unlike playing drums for Spinal Tap. And, while Sanford was good in a 4-1 Jackets win, the night belonged to Jeff Carter.
The Flames came in rested, having last played against Chicago on Friday--a 5-2 Calgary win. The Jackets were riding their modest two-game point streak, and looking to build. And, thanks to Carter, the Jackets built on early and often.
The Jackets have been looking for that elusive "fast start" game for quite some time. Tonight, for once, they got it. They also may have gotten a glimpse of another prolific scorer finally getting back up to game speed, and capable of scoring in bunches. It only took Columbus three minutes to get on the board, as Jeff Carter brought the puck up the left side and into the zone. He froze a defender, and then fired a filthy shot that got through the defender and beat Henrik Karlsson high to the glove side, just sneaking under the crossbar and inside the far post. It was a pure snipe.
1-0 Blue Jackets: Jeff Carter (2nd) at 3:01 from Vinny Prospal and Nikita Nikitin - EV
On the replay, it appeared that the puck went through the defenseman's legs after Carter shot it, and then (not suprisingly) got past Karlsson before he really even saw it. When I asked Carter if it went through the defenseman's legs, he answered almost stoically, "Yep."
For a change, the Jackets weren't done. The third line got a boost from recent addition Antoine Vermette after some great hustle by both he and Derek Dorsett. They got the puck deep, and fired it on net. Dorsett's rebound trickled over to Vermette on the glove-side doorstep, and he grabbed the puck, pulled it back from Karlsson's pad, and roofed it THROUGH HIS OWN LEGS to put the Jackets up by two.
2-0 Blue Jackets: Antoine Vermette (2nd) at 6:45 from Derek Dorsett and Fedor Tyutin - EV
"I reached for the puck, and it was almost on the goal line," Vermette said. "I pulled it back through my legs to get a better angle at the goal. I got it off, and it went in. It's nice [to get going], especially when you're doing it on the winning side."
For the rest of the period, it was the Curtis Sanford show. The Sand Man never seems to lose his composure, despite his team seeming to let off the gas a bit and the Flames regrouping a bit after taking their timeout just after the second goal. In the second half of the period, Sanford was called on to make several solid saves, including a couple of lightning quick glove saves.
At the 11:00 mark, James Wisniewski broke a stick on a one-time attempt from the point... the point furthest from his bench. The Flames had a nice chance, but Samuel Pahlsson was solid on the back-check, Sanford made the initial save on Matt Stajan, and Tim Jackman's rebound attempt was grabbed by Sanford.
At the 17:00 mark, Jeff Carter flipped the puck high in his own zone to where he thought a teammate was, only to have it easily intercepted and carried back in. Sanford was again solid with the glove to keep the Flames off the board.
End of 1st: 2-0 Blue Jackets
The Jackets needed to not have a repeat of last week's game against Minnesota, and tried their best to keep it from happening again. They got some help, as the Flames took two consecutive penalties early on. T.J. Brodie went off at 3:51 for a hit to the head, and Alex Tanguay followed with a hook at 4:45. The Jackets got a nice minute-plus of 5-on-3 time, and made it count.
After a great keep-in by Wisniewski after some action, Wiz managed to unleash the beast from the high slot. His shot was stopped. Prospal got the rebound and fired it, but Karlsson was up to that task as well. But, the puck trickled right out to Carter, who had nothing but open net and didn't miss it.
3-0 Blue Jackets: Jeff Carter (2nd of game, 3rd of season) at 5:28 from Vinny Prospal and James Wisniewski - PPG
The Jackets got a little sloppy later in the period, and Calgary would take advantage of the Jackets' struggling PK unit. Marc Methot went off for holding at 7:58, and the Flames were able to cash in. The puck cycled over to the right to Mark Giordano, who had time to set up and beat Sanford high.
3-1 Blue Jackets: Mark Giordano (3rd) at 9:07 from Alex Tanguay and Rene Borque - PPG
The top line for Columbus would show some flashes again, including a sweet play around the 12:20 mark. Rick Nash took the puck down the right wing, and waiting for Prospal who was streaking in unmarked on the left. Nash fed a slick pass all the way across to Prospal, who redirected it on net. Karlsson was up to the task.
The period would end with the teams trading penalties late, with the Flames getting nabbed for too many men at 16:19, and R.J. Umberger getting called for a hold at 18:11. Neither team could score, though the Flames went into the room with a little momentum and 10 seconds of PP time to start the third.
End of 2nd: 3-1 Blue Jackets
The Jackets killed the 10 seconds of Power Play, and then played the "period with the lead" we've all been waiting for. They never pressed, they never got themselves out of position trying to be cute, and they battened down the hatches when they had to. They held the Flames to just three shots (!) in the third period, and peppered Karlsson with some pucks when they had opportunities.
And finally, with Karlsson pulled, the Jackets iced it off the stick of their Captain. He got the puck from Prospal, skated up the left wing, and fired an empty-netter to get back in the goal column.
4-1 Blue Jackets: Rick Nash (5th) at 18:29 from Vinny Prospal - EV/ENG
For Nash, it was a bit harrowing. He said he was thinking of finding Carter for the hat trick, but Carter was a bit too far back for the pass. "Yeah, the stick was tight. Stick was real tight."
Of his streaky nature, I asked if the empty netter might get him going. "Hopefully," Nash said. "Sometimes you need one like that to get you going.Things are clicking team-wise right now, and that's all that matters."
Final Score: 4-1 Blue Jackets
- Jeff Carter - What more can you say? Opened the scoring with a goal that can't really be quantified with words for its sickness. Finished on the Power Play. 19:47 in ice time, and +2. 15-of-22 in the faceoff circle (68%). Three goals in two games.
- Vinny Prospal - Three assists (10, 11, and 12 on the season) tonight to push his season point total to 18 points in 20 games. He just makes the top line that much better. "Vinny's the guy that brings the line together," Carter said. "He's strong on the wall, strong down low. He makes good plays, and he finds us in open ice." Said Captain Nash: "We seemed to pick up our chemistry right where we left off [before Carter got hurt earlier in the season]."
- Curtis Sanford - Can't ignore The Sand Man. Another solid effort, though tonight certainly included some fortuitous bounces. Overall, though, Sanford stopped 27 of 28 shots, and since coming in against Boston he's allowed just five goals in three games. More than that, he brings such a sense of calm to the team. "I think that's just my demeanor," Sanford told me. "I think through the years, I've been through some different scenarios and situations. I've definitely learned how to just let things happen, and just let the play come to me."
- Ryan Johansen - Not in the stat sheet, but Johansen had his chances. He looks more and more like an NHLer with each game. Tonight, he showed that he's not a 19-year-old push-over. Credited with four hits tonight--which tied for the team lead--Johansen did some great wall work and was good with the puck deep.
Bottom of the Barrel
- PK - Hard to single anyone else out tonight on such a well-played game, but if the Jackets are serious they need to shore up the PK. As I said in the game thread, the PK unit is solid... until it isn't. And then the puck is almost instantly in the net, always. It was again tonight.
Well, both Jeff Carter and Rick Nash scored in this game, which is a first for the new-look Jackets. Scott Arniel cautioned about getting too far ahead of themselves, but you have to like what you see. Said Carter, "It seemed like [before] we were doing good things, but we're hitting sticks and skates and nothing's really going right. It's all starting to come together now."
The coach echoed these statements: "Obviously, we talked about chemistry, getting the team on the same page, and it's starting to evolve into that," the coach said. "The bounces, the opportunities, and the positive fortune that's turned our way is coming from how hard we're working and how hard we're doing it as five-man units. Our work away from the puck has gotten so much better."
When asked if the team might be looking at the standings and the task ahead of them, he said no. "[It has to be] head-down-and-go. We've got such a long hill to climb that it's just 'keep putting one foot in front of the other.' Build off one positive and take that next step to keep climbing. You have to do it for more than two games in a row in this league."
Next up is a tilt with New Jersey on Wednesday night. Enjoy this one in the mean time!