When the Jackets left Columbus last night, they had to be feeling some frustration after the undignified way that they dropped the home opener.
With a divisional game on their plates tonight, though, they didn't quite seem to have figured out what to do about it. Hemmed into their zone from the get go, the only real surprise was that the Jackets managed to hold the Islanders to just 9 shots on goal, though some of that may be credited to some pretty iffy Coliseum ice conditions. (More on that later.)
Mustering just four shots on goal through 20 minutes, the team once again looked like they were struggling to get co-ordinated, and the defense in particular was simply not on the same page.
Things started to look gut-clenchingly familiar when a frantic sequence in front of the Jackets' net somehow ended in Artem Anisimov getting his stick up on Michael Grabner, taking the penalty to save against what would have been a tap-in goal.
Unfortunately, though the penalty kill would do fairly well against the Islanders' top PP unit, John Tavares would get the puck past Nick Foligno and over to Lubomir Visnovsky, who did a quick back and forth passing drill with Frans Nielsen before hammering a shot through traffic to open the scoring.
The goal energized the Islanders, and they went hard on the attack, finally cashing in when John Tavares went to the corner for a loose puck and served it up to Matt Moulson, who had slipped behind Dalton Prout and was ready to put the puck home before Bob could get over in the crease.
(Full credit to Moulson, but you have to wonder if that's a goal that might not have happened with last year's smaller nets and longer pads. Oh, well.)
The Jackets did find some offensive push, particularly late in the second, but Evgeni Nabokov was equal to everything they had through 40 minutes, leaving the Jackets trailing 2-0 and outshot 19-12 with just 20 minutes to play.
I've no idea what Todd Richards did or said at intermission (perhaps, as we discussed in the game thread, he stared drawing up plans for a Sunday morning bag skate?), but the team seemed to get on the same page, pushing the play back into the offensive zone more consistently and finally seeming to skate with the Isles.
The Atkinson / Dubinsky / Gaborik line in particular started to find their ice, and Dubi would draw the first penalty for the Islanders when he got whacked with a high stick by Travis Hamonic.
The power play started slow, but when the Gaborik line went over the boards again in the final minute, pucks started flying at the net, with both Dubinsky and Atkinson looking for rebounds. A Gaborik shot from the circles would go into traffic, get whacked into the crease where both Dubinsky and Cam took tries at it, and finally Mark Letestu pinched down from the point and snapped the rebound past Nabokov to cut the lead in half.
Legs finally pumping, it would be a re-assembled line from last season that got the next big shift, with R.J. Umberger, Ryan Johansen, and Nick Foligno entering the zone and crashing around the way they did for much of last year. With both Johansen and Foligno on the doorstep, the puck found its' way behind Nabokov, with a pretty decent chance that Nabby may have kicked it into his own net while trying to find it. It was announced as Johansen's goal in the arena, so he was likely the last Jacket to touch the puck, but it's not really clear what happened. (NHL.com doesn't even seem to be 100% sure what happened - the box score still shows it as Johansen from Foligno and Umberger, but the play by play worksheet is showing it as Foligno from Umby and Nikitin.)
Update: The goal has been officially changed to #71 from 18 and 6.
The tie game would stretch into the final minutes, when the Jackets drew their second power play of the night, but nearly saw it turn to ashes when Michael Grabner picked off a pass and raced up for a shorthanded try. Just as fans around Columbus started to wince, Mark Letestu roared in and stole the puck away, getting it cleared out of trouble before the notorious speedster could do any damage.
Unfortunately, the power play would fail to find their answer, and Jack Johnson would take a fairly dumb holding call in the final minute of regulation after being beaten by Grabner again, but Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task in the final minute of regulation and with some huge saves early in OT.
Once the penalty was killed, the Jackets pushed hard through the five minute overtime, with both Umby and David Savard nearly putting the game away, but Nabokov was equally on his game, and a shootout was the next order of business.
Unfortunately, due to the massive buildup of snow on the Coliseum ice (including a...shall we say "remarkably placed" pile right in front of the Islanders' crease), the normal 30 second zamboni job turned into almost a ten minute wait for the ice to be shoveled and scraped.
New York would shoot first, and head with noted shootout assassin Frans Nielsen, who was stopped by Bob. Artem Anisimov would shoot for Columbus, but also failed to get the puck past Nabby.
John Tavares would get stopped, and Mark Letestu gave the Jackets a 1-0 lead heading into the third round.
Matt Moulson would score on a shot that went off Bob's pad and into the net, leaving Ryan Johansen with a chance to end it.
The Johan tried a spin move that he's apparently been working on in practices, but it wasn't happening tonight, so we were on to an additional round.
Josh Bailey would get the call, and tried to just power it through with a hard slapper, but Bob wasn't having any of it, and Cam Atkinson would get the game placed on his stick.
Camsanity would reign as he went in and forced Nabokov to commit, then slid around him to the right and put it in on the glove side for the team's first win of the season.
Final Score - Jackets 3, Islanders 2 (SO)
- Sergei Bobrovsky - I think it's fair to say that Bob stole this game a bit - the Islanders had a lot of prime opportunities, particularly on the final power play, and he did a good job of keeping the Jackets in the contest.
- Mark Letestu - Score a big power play goal, stop a potential game winning breakaway for the opposition, and then crack the seal in the shootout? Yeah, that'll do. Great hustle by #55. He's showing why the team made re-signing him a priority.
- Ryan Johansen - Credit where credit is due. I called out the Johan last night for his effort, and even though it looks like the tying goal may be given to Foligno, he was throwing his body around, was tied for the lead in shots with four, and got back to business in the faceoff circle tonight. More of this, please.
- Back to Basics - We said it last night - this team needs to quit trying to play cute, and just go to the net with a will. They started hammering at the door in the third period and got rewarded. That's your game. You need to stick with it.
Bottom of the Barrel
- Slow Start - Seriously, guys. Thrilled at the comeback, but the bulk of our divisional opponents are not going to spot you the first 40 minutes to find your legs.
- Top Pairing - Not just the weak sauce penalty here. The Prout / Johnson pairing feels like two puzzle pieces that LOOK like they should fit, but can't actually go together no matter how much you try to force them into place. Here's hoping that Tyutin is able to play on Thursday, so Prout can be given a chance to recapture his legs with Nikitin.
- Nassau Coliseum Facilities Staff - Guys, the game is called ICE hockey, not snow hockey. Maybe you need to turn up the A/C.
The win tonight was a big relief, and the way the team came back felt a bit like last season's hard chargers once again. The team will return to Columbus tonight and has a few days off before they'll shuffle off to Buffalo. The challenge is that Coach Richards and his staff half to keep the team playing with the edge they found tonight, tapping into that resilience and competing at speed.
Still, a big win against a division opponent, on the road, is a pretty good day's work. Here's to more where that came from.