Perhaps it was the crisp Canadian air, or perhaps the 1:00 PM start time. Maybe it was the return of Boone Jenner and the promise that Calvert and Horton will arrive soon. Alternatively, it could have been an express or implied threat from Todd Richards to banish under-performers to Springfield, or -- even worse -- Florida. Whatever lit the fuse, the fireworks ignited with precision and power, providing a convincing win that sends the club off to Alberta with renewed confidence.
Solid Start Sets the Tone
After the Blue Jackets converted the opening face-off win into an immediate icing call, pessimism may have started to creep into the minds of the faint of heart. However, the club set things right in short order, showing energy and skating with speed all the way to the puck -- no coasting (one of my pet peeves.) For the first time in recent memory, lines consistently entered the zone with speed -- three across -- creating pressure and putting Ottawa on its heels. The Senators reacted as clubs often do when pressured -- by grabbing -- and former Jacket Marc Methot got caught for holding Ryan Johansen just 4:50 into the game. It took only 12 seconds to convert the opportunity provided.
The Blue Jackets took control of the puck off the face-off, and worked the puck to Johansen, who fired a laser from the top of the right circle. The rebound caromed to Ryan Murray, who held Anderson's attention, made a nice feed back to Johansen, who buried the chance from the right circle. Ryan-to-Ryan, and the Blue Jackets had the all-important first goal of the game.
Although there was no more scoring in the first, the Jackets continued to demonstrate the fast skating, active stick breed of game throughout the period, playing responsible, pro-active defense, and showing aggressiveness in the neutral zone. They doubled the Senators' shot production, 10-5, and seemed almost uncomfortably in control.
Special Teams Dominate
Simply stated, Columbus played the best second period of the year -- period. In a stanza that has become a wasteland for the club in the early season, the Blue Jackets extended their domination, converting two more power play goals, while killing three of their own penalties. The Columbus power plays came courtesy of Mark Borowiecki -- roughing and tripping, respectively -- with the latter extending an existing power play into a 5-on-3 opportunity.
Columbus took only eight seconds to convert the first chance, with Johansen firing another howitzer from the right. It bounced high off of Anderson's chest, right into the strike zone of R.J. Umberger, who put a solid baseball swing on the puck, and knocked it into the back of the net. 2 - 0, and the home crowd was silenced (though a dedicated group of JacketBackers, who made the long journey, were not.)
The next conversion came at the 12:07 mark, with the Blue Jackets enjoying 27 seconds of 5-on-3 advantage. Wisniewski blistered one from the top of the right circle. In the battle for the rebound, Ottawa's Chris Phillips broke his stick, and Nick Foligno sticked the puck back to the point, where Tyutin took control. Realizing that he faced only two defenders with sticks, Tyutin patiently found his seam, then parked a bullet in the back of the net with just three seconds left in the two-man advantage. 3 - 0, and the Blue Jackets looked dominant.
At the other end of the ice, equally good efforts were seen. With six penalties called, it was difficult for either side to create much consistent tempo at full strength. That put a premium on the penalty kill -- and the goal-tending -- and both came through admirably. Though the PK allowed possession for uncomfortably long periods of time, they found a way to deflect pucks, cause disruption and avoid -- for the most part -- critical failures. Derek MacKenzie, in particular, was a madman, blocking three shots in one memorable PK sequence. When they did crack, allowing a quick back-door pass, Bobrovsky anticipated the move and was in place to stop the resulting one-timer. Overall, Bobrovsky looked like the confident, almost cocky net-minder that dominated the crease last season. At one point, he nonchalantly flicked a puck directed on net to the corner with a dismissive move. You could almost hear him yawn.
Although the club was outshot 13-7 in the period, the skating and speed continued. With so much time spent on special teams -- and the quick conversions of the power play -- there was precious little even strength time available in the offensive zone. Heading into the third with a three goal lead was a comfortable place to be, particularly given the troubles that the second period had presented so far this season.
Bringing it Home
Effort is usually rewarded, and so it was for Derek MacKenzie. Just over five minutes into the period, Mark Letestu chased down a buck below the goal line, and immediately fed the puck into the crease, where MacKenzie found the puck, had his initial effort stymied, but buried the rebound.
Seventeen seconds after MacKenzie's goal, apparently unsatisfied with both the progress of the game and the accommodations in the penalty box, Mark Borowiecki decided to take matters into his own hands. He leveled a brutal forearm to the head of Jared Boll, who fortunately seemed to come away no worse for the experience. James Wisniewski, however, took exception to the hit, and came flying at Borowiecki, for a brief, but spirited bout that ended up with Wisniewski being slammed to the ice. When the dust settled, Borowiecki had a five-minute major for elbowing, five-minutes for fighting and a game misconduct. Wisniewski earned two minutes for instigating, five for fighting and a game misconduct. The ensuing three-minute power play was the only special teams situation all day where the team seemed out of sync.
The altercation seemed to provide some spark to the Senators, but the Jackets managed to kept them at bay. To be honest, the skating was not as strong, and the play generally sloppier in the third. Chaput and Savard took a couple of unnecessary penalties, with the latter being particularly ill-advised, given the fact that the club was already down a defenseman. The lone blemish came just 20 seconds into that power play, off the stick of Erik Karlsson, and Bobrovsky was visibly perturbed that the shutout was lost. Still, Bobrovsky stopped 29 out of 30. The rest of the game was mere formality.
A Roomful of Heroes
There were simply too many great efforts to list the true heroes in this one. Johansen was dominant. Blake Comeau continued his solid play, and Artem Anisimov and Cam Atkinson had great efforts, though unrewarded on the scoresheet. In that same vein, Boone Jenner was perhaps the biggest catalyst for the effort. His return, of course, provided a psychological boost. On the ice, he picked up right where he left off -- creating opportunity and havoc in all three zones. Though he had no shots on goal, he rang a cannon off the post and had four other attempts. He had six hits, had a 50% rate in the face-off circle, plus two takeaways and a blocked shot. Not a bad effort, and it clearly had an inspiring effort. The Atkinson-Jenner-Dubinsky line didn't score, but they exhausted the Senators' through speed and skill, setting the table for the other lines.
On defense, Ryan Murray is, well, terrific. He finds a way to make the right play at the right time, and made some great decisions. Tyutin looked energized, and even Jack Johnson had some moments. All good signs.
And Next . . .
The Blue Jackets head to Edmonton, where some awful weather awaits. Also waiting will be Ilya Bryzgalov, who was called up from Oklahoma City today. Whether he plays on Tuesday is anyone's guess, as is the more fundamental question of whether he will cause more trouble for the opposition, or his own locker room. However, this is merely intrigue and a distracting sub-plot.
The main theme, of course, is that the Blue Jackets earned a solid win to start a long trip. That's five straight games with points, earning 7 of 10 possible points over that stretch. More important is the way they one this one -- using their speed and skill to exert pressure, and demonstrating that they can do this, given the chance. The execution level with an extra man was superb, as was the PK, which killed five of six.
No rational fan could have asked for a better start to the trip. On to Edmonton to seek that elusive quality -- consistency.