For the first time this season, the Blue Jackets have finally put three wins in a row together.
In fact, Spoilers might be the ideal way to describe tonight's rematch against the Coyotes, as the desert dogs are foundering in their attempt to stay above the "bar" - having already slipped out of the Pacific Division lead, they find themselves just three points above both the Kings and Avalanche, both of whom have begun pushing their way towards the door.
Enter the lowly Blue Jackets - the oh, so wretched Jackets, who must have looked like a blessed bit of scheduling to grant the Coyotes a reprieve. Four points in the bag, boys! Home and home and we're right back on top!
Enter a team able to hit back, hard.
Driving their way into the Phoenix zone with a will, the Jackets took the wood to Mike Smith early and often, with R.J. Umberger making a great entry move past Michael Rozsival before driving in and slamming a nice wrister past the Coyote goaltender just over 30 seconds into the match.
The Jackets would continue to break through the Phoenix defense with quick rushes and moving the puck around their zone before Vinny Prospal would find a pinching Jack Johnson with a cross ice pass. The defenseman hit a blistering shot that went into and out of the net before Smith could react for his first goal as a Blue Jacket, and Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett had seen enough, pulling Smith and installing backup Jason LaBarbera as a focusing exercise.
Steve Mason would stop several chances in the initial "push" following the goaltending change, looking solid and taking several nice glove stops, but it would take a Jacket to beat a Jacket. Antoine Vermette would pick up an excellent feed from Ray Whitney before moving in and scoring with a nice quick move. From the confidence of his attack, it seems likely that Antoine wasn't the Moustache Boy terribly often while he played here on Columbus.
The Jackets would settle down and maintain their lead through the end of the first period, then extended it early in the second when Derek Mackenzie found the puck through a mess of bodies and fired it home. The goal was contested by Phoenix due to Derek Dorsett colliding with Jason LaBarbera, but the officials felt (and replay confirmed) that Dorsett was pushed into LaBarbera by the Coyote defense, making it a good goal.
Rolling on the Chili Chant, the Jackets surged, but began to subside as the Coyotes redoubled their efforts, finally breaking through when Keith Yandle slid down the boards and fired a long shot from the wall that hit Mason's arm and found the back of the net.
The Jackets would have a chance to respond on the power play when Darryl Boyce rolled in on a breakaway before being tripped by Adrian Aucoin, but the penalty would be negated on a questionable goaltender interference call against Cam Atkinson.
The teams would end the 4-on-4 and brief Jackets kill, but a late case of fisticuffs would break out between Martin Hanzal and Ryan Russell at the end of the period.
Despite power play opportunities for each team as the final period ran through, neither side would find an advantage, through Phoenix would double up on Columbus, 13-6 on the shot clock, for a final total of 40 shots against Mason and 32 shots for the Jackets. Both goaltenders were solid, but Mason was the difference maker - he kept control of the game and seemed to play with the balance of confidence and care that has been missing so often from his efforts until recently.
The only sour note in the win is the loss once again of Nikita Nikitin, who left in the second period with a lower body injury from blocking shots. Here's hoping he'll be back soon.
Final Score - Jackets 3 - Coyotes 2
- Jack Johnson - Goal, assist, and a +2 rating? Oya manda, dude. Nice to see JJ notch his first as a Jacket, especially for the emotional lift of chasing Smith.
- R.J. Umberger - Seems like he's finally on track after his struggles to find the back of the net - and his move to get past Rozsival on the way to the goal was quite something!
- Derek Mackenzie - Another great effort from Mackenzie, who has been stepping up his game in response to filling Sammy Pahlsson's shoes.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Another Injury - Don't get me wrong, I love Nikitin's game, but I'd really love to see him stay healthy. Losing him every few games is frustrating when he's become such a key player.
- Yes We Cam? - I think the interference call on Cam was total crap, but it's a symptom - it feels like he's trying like crazy to show the team he can stay up, so he's trying to crash the net and play "bigger" than his size, instead of just focusing on the scoring touch and offensive instincts that were so successful in Springfield. Get back to basics, Cam!
- Finishing - Guys, I realize Phoenix is good, but with almost a solid two minutes of an open cage, it would have been nice to see someone golf one in. The amount of missed opportunities on empty nets has been one of the worst bugaboos for this team all season.
With their first 3 game streak in the books, the Jackets will have a chance to make it four when the Los Angeles Kings come to visit on Thursday. Gee, Jeff Carter and Jack Johnson squaring off for the first time since the trade? I bet that'll be all kittens and lemonade.