As Captain Jean-Luc Picard once said, "Sometimes you can make all the right decisions, and still lose."
That seems like an apt summary of tonight's game in New Jersey.
After an embarrassing loss to the Maple Leafs on Friday, the Jackets packed up, flew out to Jersey, got stuck on the turnpike for two hours, and eventually ended up in Newark, god help them, to face the Devils.
Making the decision to give Anton Forsberg the net for his first NHL start, head coach Todd Richards also pulled in Brian Gibbons and Cody Goloubef to fill out the lines with a few fresh legs, while Dalton Prout was told to have a seat for the evening.
Clearly making an effort to put the previous game behind them, the Jackets came out swinging - and connected early, thanks to Nick Foligno picking Bryce Salvador's pocket, and sending Brian Gibbons and Jack Skille into the offensive zone.
Gibbons made a clean pass to set up his linemate, and Skille fired a bullet past Cory Schneider to give the Jackets their first lead in nearly a week.
1-0 Jackets - Skille (3) from Gibbons (1) and Foligno (7)
Despite a few near miss opportunities, the Jackets weren't able to extend their lead after the quick strike, but Forsberg did a good job of controlling his rebounds and maintaining the net, stopping 11 shots for a 1-0 sheet at the end of the first period.
The second began with promise - the Jackets had just over a minute of power play time to work with, but they found themselves down to 4 on 4 after Ryan Johansen was called for a holding penalty.
Columbus killed that penalty, but just a few minutes later, Jared Boll would head to the box for an elbow, and things would not go so well.
The Devils controlled the offensive zone, and got the PK to overload on the left side of the ice, leaving Mark Zidlicky alone on the right. Jack Johnson, in what alcoholics refer to as "a moment of clarity", suddenly realized that he needed to defend the wide open shooter, but too late - the puck was already heading off Zidlicky's stick and past Forsberg to tie things up.
1-1 tie - Zidlicky (2) from Ryder (5) and Severson (4)
To their credit, though, the Jackets didn't pack it in there - in fact, they came out firing hard, eventually outshooting the Devils 11-6 in the period, and when you do that kind of work, perhaps the hockey gods will reward you with an opportunity.
Jack Skille would spark things, hustling into the Devils' zone and drawing a hooking penalty a bit past the halfway point of the period. With the power play going to work, the Devils stopped an early attack, but when the Jackets headed up ice to counter, things went a little differently.
Nick Foligno started things off by carrying the puck into the zone, then dishing it back to Brian Gibbons as he went to the net. Gibbons would pass off to Jack Johnson, who found a lane and fired his shot to the net. Foligno would redirect the puck into the net, and the Jackets' surprisingly potent power play had struck again.
2-1 Jackets - Foligno (4) from Johnson (5) and Gibbons (2)
The go-ahead goal seemed to add a bit more fire to the Jackets' offense, but sometimes too much fire means you get burned.
In a frightening moment that called back to last Sunday, Nick Foligno would fall to the ice, clearly injured. This time it was not from taking a bad hit at the boards, but from friendly fire - struck high and hard in the shoulder by a Jack Johnson slapshot. (Though replays showed that Zidlicky had checked Foligno into the path of the puck.)
Foligno got to his feet after a moment, but headed down the tunnel to the dressing room immediately, leaving a pallor over the last minute of the period.
To the great relief of fans in Columbus, Foligno returned for the third period, though he did seem to be less than 100%
Despite that, he continued to work, as did the team behind him, and though they didn't find another goal (though Johansen hit a sweet shot off the post), and protected the lead well, until things started to go unexpectedly sideways.
It began with Adam Cracknell being sent to the box for a hook on Salvador, but TV footage (and replay) showed that Salvador had grabbed Cracknell's stick himself to embellish for the penalty.
On the heels of that call, the Jackets PK was maintaining, though they had issues clearing the zone, when a bizarre sequence unfolded in front of the net.
Anton Forsberg streched out to stop a shot from Adam Henrique, and dropped into his butterfly to try and freeze the puck.
In fact, it appeared he had successfully done so, given the puck was trapped under his torso, yet the referee behind the net refused to blow the whistle. In fact, he continued to refuse to do so while Henrique and several other Devils tried to dig the puck out from under him (which is generally a sign that the puck is, in fact, underneath him, and as such should have been blown dead), but instead the play would continue until it was finally pulled out from under him and flipped into the net.
(If it sounds like I'm rather pissed off about this goal? You may be a detective. Replay from Fox Sports Ohio showed the puck being frozen, and even Devils fans were on twitter wondering why the play hadn;t been blown dead. Intent to blow, indeed.)
2-2 Tie: Henrique (4) from Jagr (6) and Zidlicky (4)
Seemingly before the outrage had faded, however, things got worse.
Back on their heels, the Jackets found themselves hemmed into their own zone, and it wasn't long before the Devils capitalized on their confusion. Chasing the puck below the goal line, every defender save Scott Hartnell was at or below the goal line when the puck was sent up to the blue line, where Salvador settled the puck before sending it over to Adam Larsson.
Hartnell attempted to get into Larsson's shooting lane, but he found a hole through the crush of white and red jerseys around the crease, and just like that, the Devils had the lead for the first time tonight.
3-2 Devils: Larsson (1) from Salvador (1) and Elias (5)
As if they weren't already in a bad situation, the Jackets took another blow when Cody Goloubef collided with Adam Henrique while defending his crease. Down and clearly in pain after the hit, the training staff would be called out to attend to him, and the 2008 draft pick left the ice under their assistance, clearly unable to put weight on his right leg.
Shockingly, that wasn't the last joker in the deck for Columbus - there was still one more waiting to be drawn.
With just over six minutes left, it looked like Columbus would be heading to the power play when Ryan Clowe crosschecked Scott Hartnell in the face coming out of a post-whistle scrum. But, to the confusion and outrage of anyone watching the game with half a brain, Hartnell would be called for embellishment. Which is...an interesting take on it. I was personally unaware that you could be blindsided and yet somehow dive at the same time.
That kind of frustration characterized the remainder of the third period. Though they kept shooting, and swinging, the Jackets couldn't find a tying goal. Emotions continued to run high, and things finally boiled over when Scott Hartnell trucked Elias in the dying seconds, and was called for boarding. It remains to be seen if that will bring supplementary discipline, but my gut feeling is that it's not too likely.
On the other hand, we're already down to 11 forwards and (barring a call up) 6 defensemen. Why not lose Hartnell for two or three games, too?
Final Score: Devils 3 - Jackets 2.
- Nick Foligno - Foligno was big factor in each goal tonight, and even after another nasty injury scare, he was right back out there leading the charge. This team is probably in for another rough week or two, at least, but he's doing everything he can to pull them through.
- Anton Forsberg - Not the best NHL debut ever, but Forsberg had a respectable game, and made big saves even after the Larsson goal - he didn't let it get to him, and he did everything possible to keep the team in the game. (And as I mentioned, one of those goals...well, let's just say it's not at all his fault.)
- Brian Gibbons - Gibbons did exactly what we hoped he would - he added speed, a decent bit of skill, and fresh energy to the lineup. Two assists in his first game is a promising start. Here's hoping that even when players start to get healthy, Gibbons gets a few more games to show what he can do.
Bottom of the Barrel
- Zebra Crossings - This was one of the worst officiated games I've seen in a while, and when the other team's fans are commenting on it, you know it's bad.
- Another Damn Injury - Get well soon, Cody.
- Chasing Tails - Two of the three Jersey goals came out of the Jackets either overloading on one side of the ice, or getting caught with everyone low. Both are cases where the team over-pursued the puck, and paid the price. There's nothing wrong with trying to go the extra mile to help Forsberg in his first NHL start, but too many guys had tunnel vision in their own end tonight.
- Streak's over - Ryan Johansen's point streak ends with 10 in 11 games. Still not a bad run. Guess he'll just have to start another one.
All things considered, it could be worse. The Jackets put in a hell of an effort on the second night of a back to back, Forsberg's first NHL game was a strong effort, and though we lost Goloubef, there's a good chance that Calvert and Jenner may be able to draw in as soon as Tuesday's game against Carolina.
Was it a frustrating loss? Yes. But it's not an embarassing loss - and after Friday, that's a step in the right direction.