To say this was an odd game for the Blue Jackets would be an understatement.
Thanks to Derek MacKenzie and Jack Skille returning to the lineup, the forwards would shuffle again, with the final arrangement putting Brandon Dubinsky on the wing with Artem Anisimov at center and Cam Atkinson on the right, a third line of Corey Tropp, Mark Letestu, and Boone Jenner, and DMac and Skille paired with Blake Comeau. Only the red hot Umby / Johan / Goaligno line would be untouched.
On top of that, the team had expected Curtis McElhinney to start all day, but Mike McKenna would get a last minute nod after C-Mac tweaked his back shortly before warmups.
Oh, and on top of that, a few guys apparently got lost inside the bowels of the building.
The team wouldn't get off to a confused start, though. After each goaltender was tested a few times in the first few minutes of play, the Jackets would draw first blood on Justin Peters thanks to Cam Atkinson driving deep into the Carolina zone, grabbing the puck below the goal line, and dropping a gorgeous pass to AA, who hit the wrist shot cleanly into the net.
Unfortunately, the Jackets would begin collecting the first of what would be many penalties not long after the opening goal. Despite the Hurricanes having one of the worst power plays in the NHL this season, Jeff Skinner made it look easy late in the first period. Taking the puck from Eric Staal off of the faceoff, he slid himself back in a pirouette before lining up a sneaky little shot that slipped right past McKenna to tie the game at ones heading into intermission.
The parade of penalties really picked up for both teams in the second, but the Jackets couldn't make anything work against the Carolina PK. Fortunately, they weren't as frustrated at even strength, pushing play firmly into the offensive zone, and that would pay off just past the 3/4 mark of the period when the Test Tube line would get on the board.
Letestu would carry the puck in down the left side, then rip a hard shot into Peters' chest, which rebounded out into the slot. Corey Tropp would...well, honestly, I'm not sure what he was trying to do, as he got his legs cut out from under him as he tried to play the puck, but somehow his flailing attempt to get a shot on net would squeak through a crush of bodies in front of the net and past Peters for his first NHL goal this season.
The lead wouldn't last long, though, as Jack Johnson would be sent to the box for a hooking call that I will politely call borderline, and Skinner would spark the Hurricane power play once again. Left totally unguarded in front of the net, he called for the puck from Alexander Semin, and put his shot bar down to tie the game once again.
That goal fired up the Hurricanes, and they blew into the third period with devastating force, pinning Columbus in their end again and again until they finally broke down the Blue Jackets' defenses. After James Wisniewski stood Nathan Gerbe up in the Columbus zone, Jordan Staal would take the puck away and drive to the net before faking his shot and passing over to a waiting Alexander Semin, who put his shot home in a very similar fashion to the second Skinner goal.
Unable to push back on the ice, frustration boiled over for Skille, who knocked Tuomo Ruutu halfway back to Turku with a thunderous hit. Unfortunately, his highlight reel hit was also textbook interference, so he'd be sent to the box.
In other games, that penalty might have lead to a fourth Carolina goal, and the end of Columbus' chances, but tonight that hit seemed to fire up the Jackets bench, and the PK finally figured out that maybe Jeff Skinner ought to be covered, rather than left to his own devices on the ice.
After the successful kill, the Jackets went on the attack, with Letestu figuring into the play once again. This time he'd launch the puck out of his own zone and over to Nick Foligno with a perfect stretch pass, and he'd break through on a rush with Ryan Johansen. A nice little dish over to the Johan put him behind the defense, one on one against Peters, and he showed off his wicked shot to bring the Jackets back into the game.
The Canes must have felt a bit shell shocked by the sudden reversal of momentum, and James Wisniewski would take advantage of that confusion in the next minute after the tying goal, sending Artem Anisimov up the ice on a very similar pass to the Letestu - Foligno connection, and this time Anisimov would be the one passing the puck off to a teammate, dropping it back to Jack Skille, who knew exactly what to do with it. Taking the puck and firing top corner, he picked up his fourth goal in nine games to give Columbus the lead with just over two minutes to play in regulation.
Carolina attempted to force their way back in, pulling Peters for an extra attacker, and as time died away Jeff Skinner would find time and space once again away from the Blue Jacket defenders, but this time McKenna was ready with a spectacular glove save, snapping the leather up and making a game saving stop to help the Jackets steal two huge points that they could put under the tree.
Final Score: Jackets 4 - Hurricanes 3
- Mike McKenna - McMac stepped in on short notice and kept the Jackets in the game a couple times, particularly in the early part of the third period, and found one crucial save right when the team needed it.
- The Grinders - Between Tropp, Letestu, Jenner, Comeau, and Skille, the Jackets got some major plays from their bottom six.
- The Johan - That is one Grown Ass Man there. Johansen is now leading the team in goals and overall points.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- PK - No, really, you probably should consider putting some defensive pressure on the opponent's leading goal scorer. We made the NHL's worst home ice power play look like a well oiled machine tonight, and that's just embarrassing.
- Discipline - The Skille penalty was a big momentum changer in the Jackets' favor (for once!), but the Jackets got wrapped up and boxed like Christmas presents for most of this game. Quite a few of the calls looked borderline to me, but guys were sitting in the box one way or the other, and that could have easily given this game away.
- ...honestly, that's really about it. The Jackets came back for a big win with a huge third period effort. I'm feeling a good bit of holiday cheer right now, and I bet the guys on the flight home are too.
Good teams find ways to win, even on nights where things don't go according to plan. Based on what we saw tonight? The Blue Jackets may just be turning that corner. They picked up a win against a divisional opponent, moved one point back of New Jersey, and are two points back of both New York and Philly. With more Metro Matchups coming up after the holiday break, Columbus is in a position to take control of their own destiny...and did I mention that it's looking like Nathan Horton may be ready to play his first game in a Blue Jackets sweater on Friday?