The fourth of six meetings this season between the Jackets and Blues came with no shortage of the usual bad blood between the clubs, but unfortunately it also came with what has been come a sadly normal amount of bad penalties, bad decisions, and bad goaltending for the Jackets, leading to the end of their four game winning streak.
Despite having the odds stacked against them, the Jackets looked good for much of the early part of the game, but the team watched the game trickle away from them as time went by.
Killing the first St. Louis power play, the Jackets attempted to put pressure on Blues goaltender Brian Elliott, but a rush up ice by Kevin Shattenkirk would set up a cycle in the defensive zone before Andy McDonald threw a long shot on goal from the boards, and Curtis Sanford's stick save unfortunately rebounded perfectly to David Perron. The young playmaker took advantage of the gift, firing it home before Sanford could get into position, and the NHL's best home team would take an early lead.
The Blues would receive two more power plays in the first period alone thanks to high sticking calls against Aaron Johnson and Cam Atkinson, but the Jackets' PK would survive the period, though the team would be badly outshot by a margin of 15-6 at the end of the first period.
Finally getting their first power play opportunity early in the second period after T.J. Oshie was called for a high stick of his own. The power play did not convert, but the offensive pressure created, particularly by the second unit, would pay off when Cam Atkinson found a loose puck in front of Elliot and fired it home for his second NHL goal.
The goal triggered a push by the Jackets to take the game back into their own hands, including emergency recall Dane Byers provoking B.J. Crombeen into a marathon fight. Pushing the play and breaking St. Louis' suffocating forecheck, the Jackets seemed on the verge of breaking through thanks to speedy slashing attacks from the combinations of Mark Letestu and Cam Atkinson, and the Maksim Mayorov / Darryl Boyce / Colton Gillies line.
Unfortunately, a bad turn would hit the Jackets when a long rebound off a Brett Lebda shot would bounce to Chris Stewart. Racing up ice one on one against Lebda, the defenseman would make a critical mistake. Allowing Stewart to get around and behind him, the power forward sent a wicked backhander to the top corner, putting the Blues ahead once again.
The Jackets would find themselves down a man with R.J. Umberger in the box for a slash, and T.J. Oshie would find space around the faceoff dot on the power play and hammered a wrist shot home to put the Blues ahead by two.
Around this same time, veteran referee Mike Hasenfratz would leave the ice due to illness and not return. It would seem that absence emboldened Barrett Jackman, who began to take several liberties with Rick Nash, including several blows from behind that triggered a brief confrontation between Jackman and Nash. Both would go to the penalty box, with Jackman receiving an additional minor.
Cam Atkinson appeared to have his second goal of the night after a frantic scrum, but the goal would be waived off by remaining ref Kyle Rehman on the intent to blow rule after he lost sight of the puck under Brian Elliott's legs. The waived off goal seemed to take juice out of the team, and despite outshooting the Blues 9-5 in the second period, the scoreboard was still 3-1 in favor of St. Louis.
St. Louis continued to control the pace of the game through the early third period before frustration began to boil over, and Derick Brassard would be sent to the penalty box both for slashing and an additional unsportsmanlike conduct after arguing the call.
Another chaotic scrum around the goal would end with Alex Pietrangelo knocking a puck into the crease, then rebounding off the stick of Nikita Nikitin and into the net. The goal was initially reviewed to make sure it was not batted in with a hand pass, but the war room eventually ruled a good goal, and the Blues had a seemingly unconquerable 4-1 lead.
Pushed to the perimeter and getting less and less traffic to the net, the Jackets fell into the trap of "Hitch Hockey", putting less and less traffic into the dangerous areas of the ice.
Nikitin, Jason Arnott, and Chris Stewart would be involved in a scrum after the whistle that lead to all three heading to the penalty box, but the Jackets simply could not characterize on the opportunity, or on a final PP in the dying minutes of regulation, mustering just a total of 22 shots for the game.
Final Score - Blues 4 - Jackets 1
- Cam Atkinson - Goal #2 was a perfect example of hustle and staying with the play, and it was only hard work by Elliott and a bad whistle that kept Atkinson from notching another. Constantly working around the bigger, physical Blues defense, he's clearly not afraid to get mixed up in the rough stuff.
- Maksim Mayorov - In his second game since behind called up Mayorov was involved in some of the better "hustle" plays, and worked well as part of a third line with Darryl Boyce and Colton Gillies.
- Ryan Johansen - Getting some power play time with the top unit late in the game, Johansen showed some excellent passing and had a couple of good breakthrough plays at even strength. Playing at his natural center position, you have to hope he'll see some additional ice time down the stretch.
- Scottrade Center Organist - Some fun and funky organ tunes. Have to give props where due.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Top Line - Our top three forwards were responsible for three of St. Louis' six power plays - two of which were converted on. To make matters worse, there didn't seem to be much offensive co-ordination between Brass, Nash, and Umby.
- Special Teams - Not only was the PK kicked around pretty heavily, but the power play going dry on four opportunities was a major issue. One, even two of those power plays going back Columbus' way, particularly in the second or early third period, might have helped turn things around.
- Passive-Aggressive - The team simply let the Blues set the tone for fourty of sixty minutes. The second period was great, but too much time spent either on the penalty kill or simply getting taken out of the offensive zone. It was the complete opposite of the Jackets' success over the last four games, and it showed.
- Curtis Sanford - Sorry, Sandman, but this was NOT a good night. Clearly having problems with rebound control and tracking the puck around the ice, especially when traffic got in close around the crease, it felt like three of the Blues goals were quite stoppable.
There's no rest for the wicked - the Jackets and Blues get back on the bus and fly to Columbus tonight before a rematch tomorrow evening at Nationwide.