"It's the same old song and dance, here, playing from behind," Mark Letestu said afterward. "Once we get ahead, we gotta put our foot on the neck."
The Blue Jackets are starting to get some bodies back healthy, and they certainly need all hands on deck with the way things have been going. They got Nikita Nikitin back on the blue-line, which meant their top pairing was back together. They would need all the defense they could get, with a solid offensive Flames squad coming into Nationwide. But, it was another story of a blown lead, and of their game disappearing for large chunks of time.
The teams wouldn't take too long to get things started. Just past the four minute mark, Calgary would send a dump into the Jackets' zone. It got to Sergei Bobrovsky on the right post, and he trapped it on his stick. He had a defenseman skating in with a Flames' player just behind, but rather than leave it behind the net for his defenseman to pick up as he curled around, Bob tried to play the puck around behind. The Flames were there for the intercept, and Jiri Hudle settled it to Dennis Wideman at the right point. Wideman ripped a slapper that was deftly redirected in front by Roman Cervenka for his first of the year at the 4:19 mark.
The Jackets would not take long to answer. Just 25 seconds was all it took, as Tim Erixon sent a clearing pass to Vinny Prospal, who got it to Matt Calvert streaking up the left wing. Calvert snapped off a beauty from the left circle that beat Flames' goalie Leland Irving to the far upper corner at 4:44. Just like that, it tied up.
The line of Calvert, Mark Letestu, and Prospal was by far the most consistent in the period, generated a gorgeous chance around the 7:15 mark, as they tic-tac-toe'd a play in front that just hopped over Prospal's stick.
The teams would trade penalties later in the period, with the Jackets making the Flames pay. Alex Tanguay went off for Interference at the 8:52 mark, and the Jackets' much-maligned PP unit (maligned on Tuesday, anyway) would go to work against the league's 29th PK unit.
After a no-call boarding laid on RJ Umberger, the Jackets managed to get reset, and some gorgeous passing would result in pay dirt. Jack Johnson got the puck to Derick Brassard in the right circle. Brass wound up like he was going to rip a slap shot, and at the last second instead directed a cross-slot pass to a wide open Letestu, who snuck a seeing-eye one-time inside the post past the outstretched pad of Irving to make it 2-1 at the 9:37 mark.
The teams matched penalties just before the 16 minute mark, and neither offense could get another puck into the net. The period would end with the Jackets in front 2-1, and out-shooting the Flames 12-8.
Columbus would put themselves behind the eight-ball early in the second period, as Jared Boll would level a bone-crunching hit to Derek Smith between the benches that would earn Boller a two minute sit-down for interference. The Flames almost broke through, but Bobrovsky must be living right. TJ Brodie sent a pass across from the right circle to a wide-open Tanguay on the left door-step. He would beat Bob, but the puck would deflect back into the post to be covered by Bobrovsky.
But, it would be poor own-zone play and too many failed clearing attempts that would do in the Jackets. They played most of the second half of the second period as if they were killing a penalty. The Flames held the zone time after time and got chance after chance on Bobrovsky. And eventually it would burn the Jackets.
After another failed clear, Brodie would rip a shot from the left point. Bobrovsky made the initial save, but the rebound kicked right to Mikael Backlund in front who would put it past Bob to tie it up at the 13:06 mark.
The Jackets countered with a couple of late chances, but to say they weren't relieved to get to the intermission would probably not be true. "We get the lead, we've got to hold onto it," Derek Dorsett said after the game. "That's something that we've struggled to do. It's getting old, chasing from behind. We've got to quit having five minute lapses, 10 minute lapses. In the second period, I thought we played good for 10 minutes, and I don't think we left our zone for the other 10."
"They spent more time in our zone," coach Todd Richards said. "We weren't good going into the battles. Their second man in was beating us to those scrums, and they were coming up with pucks and were able to move out of [the battle] pretty easily, which creates a lot of problems in the defensive zone."
The question was: could they make adjustments and counter what Calgary was doing in the third period?
The early returns would be mixed. It no longer looked like a Flames' PP, but they were still getting plenty of looks. But for Curtis Glencross fanning on a tap-in goal around the 3:40 mark, the Jackets would have found themselves down early in the period.
Ironically, it was the one Jackets' strength that would do them in. Brassard took a hooking penalty at the 6:37 mark, and the Jackets PKers were spot-on for 116 seconds. But, you have to be good for 120. Sadly, this one was on their goaltender. They got it deep in the Calgary zone, and Irving played the puck to Jay Bouwmeester. He sent it to Lee Stempniak who carried it into the zone on the right wing. He ripped a slapper that beat Bob high-glove. It's one the goal-tender would probably like that have back.
But again, the Jackets would have an answer. Just two and a half minutes later, a Bouwmeester turnover forced by Letestu would result in Mark heading down the left side all alone. The defenseman got to him, but Test Tube beautifully dropped it to Prospal, who had time to settle, and wire a wrister past Irving on the glove side to tie it again at 11:00. When I asked if Vinny was calling for it, Letestu didn't hesitate: "Vinny's always calling for it," he said. "He's a shooter. I didn't have a lot of speed, and I knew he was coming. He wants that puck in that zone every time, and I'm more than happy to give it to him."
The teams traded punches, but neither team had the edge until the 18:10 mark, when the Jackets would get a golden opportunity after a Stempniak interference call robbed the Jackets on a break-away. The final 1:50 of regulation would be played with Columbus up a skater. Sadly, they picked the least opportune time to have their worst PP of the night, and the Flames escaped to overtime.
The overtime wouldn't last much more than a minute. The Jackets got the puck deep off of the remaining PP time carrying over, and enjoyed an embarrassment of golden opportunities to end this game. The final straw was when Tanguay got caught out of position, everyone was on the right side, and the puck was sent across to a pinching Fedor Tyutin. Toots got a clean look, ripped a shot that was saved, and the breakout started the other way.
Iginla brought it in on the left, and at the last possible moment feathered a beautiful cross-slot pass to Tanguay--who had gotten lost in the shuffle. He beat Bob for the game winner, and the Jackets let one slip away.
"We have to figure it out," Richards said afterward. "For 20 minutes it was good, and then we lose our game. And, when it's gone, it's gone."
Final Score - Flames 4, Blue Jackets 3 - OT
- Mark Letestu - Not just for his goal, either, which was a seeing-eye job on the Power Play. He earned his way up onto the third line, and it's not a coincidence that his line was generally the best of the four lines up front for Columbus. His drop assist to Prospal was gorgeous as well. Letestu was easily the Jackets' best player tonight. "I think it's just a matter of [coach Richards] trusting me to go out there and do the right things time after time," Letestu said. "I think it's earned, and right now, the puck's going in for me." Indeed, on all accounts.
- Matt Calvert - Not just for his goal, which was a beauty, but Matty C was his usual self: skating hard all the time, making his presence felt, blocking shots. An all-around great game for Calvert.
- Nick Foligno - Not in the score sheet, but Foligno got my attention several times. He back-checked a lot in this game, and I saw him helping out the defensemen several times in so doing. He also had a couple of offensive chances, including creating one the resulted in the final penalty to Calgary in front of the net.
Bottom of the Barrel
- The Blue Line - a LOT of sloppy passes, misplays, and failed clearing attempts. The second period basically looked like the Jackets were killing a penalty for most of the second half of it.
- Sergei Bobrovsky - Given the above, it's hard to put too much blame on Bob. That second period barrage probably should have netted three or four goals for the Flames. Bob got some help from the goalkeeper's best friend several times to help keep things close. The Stempniak goal he probably would like to have back. He does need to be a little more selective about how and when he plays the puck.
- Consistency - A moving target for sure, but when every player interviewed in the dressing room talks about needed to play more consistently and to figure out why they have these five and ten minute lapses, it's an issue. They couldn't clear their zone in the second period; they lost a lot of board battles. They stopped forechecking with any kind of conviction. To a man, they cite execution and not effort, but for some of those battles you have to at least wonder.
The Jackets have two more games on their six-game home-stand to go, and then it's off on the road where it will certainly not get any easier. They don't come much more gift-wrapped than tonight's game did, and to only come out with one point certainly hurts.