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Games 1 & 2 (X) Recap: Start As You Mean To Go On

The Blue Jackets kicked off their 2014-2015 preseason schedule with a split squad doubleheader, sending a relatively young contingent down to Carolina to face the Hurricanes, while a more veteran lineup would host the St. Louis Blues.

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Game 1(X): Columbus (A) @ Carolina

At 1:30pm, Eastern Daylight Time, hockey officially came back with the drop of a puck between Mark Letestu and Riley Nash at the PNC center in Raleigh. Recaps for preseason games are always a bit odd, especially on the road when you only have radio coverage (if you're lucky) to go off of, but the two sides seemed to be doing a decent job of knocking the rust off and reacquainting themselves in this season's first exhibition game.

Cam Ward would take the pipes for the Hurricanes for the first 30 minutes of regulation play (and be replaced halfway through the second period by Alex Nedeljkovic), while Anton Forsberg was given the net by assistant coach Craig Hartsburg, and would end up going the distance.

Through the first ten minutes or so, the two sides had a few decent looks, but nothing really exciting. Unfortunately, that's where Dana Tyrell apparently decided to make things a bit more interesting by getting a hook on John-Michael Liles. The initial PK seemed to start well, but unfortunately Tim Erixon would be forced to get his stick up on Jeff Skinner in an attempt to slow down the speedy winger, and that would put Columbus on a delayed penalty as Ward went to the bench for a six on four attack.

Skinner and Jeff Murphy would move the puck around the PK, preventing them from touching up, and set up Andrej Sekera for a booming shot that would give the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead.

Hopefully they enjoyed that, because it didn't last long.

The "veteran" line of Mark Letestu, Cam Atkinson, and Nick Foligno would drive the piay down into the Carolina end as the Jackets counterattacked, and would set up a bang-bang play that saw Letestu setting up Cam for a shot that hit the post, bounced off Ward's back, and juuuuuuuuuust barely crossed the line. (The radio call from Carolina's Chuck Kaiton was kind of like hearing a man describing his car getting hit in the Piggly-Wiggly parking lot. Beautiful.)

Not long after, Columbus would get a power play of their own, and the Letestu line would carry the mail again. This time, Letestu was the recipient of a set up shot from James Wisniewski, and put it on net, where Nick Foligno was waiting to cash in on a rebound for his first of the pre-season.

Despite being outshot 11-9 in the first period, the Jackets took the 2-1 lead to the dressing room, and would add to it a few minutes into the middle frame when camp invitee Mike Hoeffel (signed as a free agent by the Falcons this offseason) roofed a point blank shot past Ward.

Unfortunately, Carolina's Riley Nash would respond on the next play, squeaking one past Forsberg as he came out from behind the net and attempted what sounded like a wrap-around shot.

The score would stay static through the midpoint of the period, and at the next stoppage in play, Ward's night was done, having allowed three goals on thirteen shots, and Nedeljkovic took over for the home team.

A few minutes later, Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson charged in on a rush, and gave him his official welcome to the NHL thanks to a high-speed wrister from #13, who tallied his second of the afternoon to return the two-goal lead.

The Jackets were unable to press the rookie netminder, generating just ten shots total in the second and third periods, but did a good job of tamping down the Canes in return, though they would continue to be outshot for the remainder of the game.

Carolina's Chris Terry did end up scoring at the tail end of a third period power play to close the game to 4-3, but the win for Columbus never really seemed to be in doubt, even when Nedeljkovic was pulled for an extra skater with a little over a minute and a half to play. Anton Forsberg kept his cool under pressure, and the team came right along with him as they ground out the clock for their first win of the pre-season.

Final: Blue Jackets 4 - Hurricanes 3.

Game 2(X): Blue Jackets (B) vs. St. Louis

Though the Blues seemed to have an edge in the opening shifts thanks to an intense physical attack, it didn't take long for the Jackets to turn the tables.

In his first shift as a Blue Jacket, Kerby Rychel hit the ice with Boone Jenner and Jared Boll, intent on causing havoc. The 2013 first round pick would find an opportunity when he picked Chris Butler's pocket and reversed back into the slot, firing a hard shot that would go five-hole on Jake Allen for the 1-0 lead.

Curtis McIlhenney started the game in net for Columbus, and had to make a couple of tough saves against the Blues counterattack, but would get some relief after St. Louis would be whistled for the first penalty of the game.

Alexander Wennberg connected with a Jack Johnson shot for an early opportunity that Allen was just barely able to save, but couldn't recapture the magic during that first man advantage. That successful kill fired St. Louis up, and after a few hard shifts they had their own power play after David Savard was sent to the box for a trip.

The PK worked hard, initially, but a bad rebound off the post went straight to the stick of Jori Lehtera, who had a wide open net with McElhinney down and out after the initial save attempt.

With the game tied up, the next few shifts were critical - and unfortunately the home team made another costly mistake when Dalton Prout was sent to the box for interference. St. Louis would not convert, but it continued to drain the Jackets' momentum, forcing them on the defensive through the remainder of the first period, though the Rychel / Jenner / Boll line did create another golden scoring opportunity in the final minute of play.

In the second period, neither team found the back of the net, though the Jackets finally found a few scoring opportunities after being heavily outshot (14-5) in the first period, It would be another power play that finally sparked things up, as Simon Hjalmarsson drew a tripping call after charging down for a shot on Allen.

Dalton Prout would fire a blast in that Allen moved out to challenge, and Alexander Wennberg was in the perfect position to send the puck into the back of the net for his first goal of the 2014-2015 preseason.

The second period appeared like it would end with the Jackets leading on the scoreboard, though still badly outshot, but the Jackets had a surprise in store - as the final minute of play ticked away, David Savard teed up a shot from the point, and Boone Jenner would be right where he needed to be to scoop up the rebound and backhand it past Allen, giving the team a 3-1 lead going into the final period of regulation.

That third period would begin with a change in net for both clubs - Oscar Dansk taking the reins for the Jackets, and Matt Clime for the Blues.

Unfortunately, Dansk would receive much the same "Welcome to the NHL" that Nedeljkovic received in the earlier game, with Vladimir Tarasenko driving in to score in the opening shift of the period, cutting the lead back down to one goal. Worse, Jared Boll would be whistled for a slash on his next shift, putting the Jackets back on the PK once again.

Fortunately, Matt Calvert would get his hustle on, and draw an equalizing interference call on a shorthanded rush, bleeding off some of the Blues' momentum, and appeared to draw a second when play resumed, but he would be called for embellishment on the second exchange, keeping the play evened up.

Dansk continued to look somewhat shaky after his rough start to the period, and unfortunately the Blues would capitalize - Sebastian Wannstrom would take a shot that Dansk made the initial save on, but was out of position when the rebound came off the glass and back into play, where he was able to clean it up to tie things back up.

Worse, Boone Jenner would leave the bench around the same point, forcing head coach Todd Richards to start shuffling lines to compensate. Fortunately, the Jackets were able to stiffen up (and Dansk to settle down), but the game would head to OT still missing the big bodied forward, and with St. Louis finishing up the final :38 of a power play to boot.

To the Jackets' credit, they brought it hard on the PK, and battered St. Louis back once again. Oscar Dansk settled down, and after a furious exchange that saw Marko Dano nearly make it a 2013 hat trick, Dylan Heatherington would get time and space for a slap shot that smoked past Clime, giving the Jackets the overtime win.

Final Score - Blue Jackets 4 - Blues 3 (OT)

Standard Bearers:

  • The Kids Are Alright - The preseason is about letting the younger guys get a look at the NHL, have the opportunity to make some plays, and see what you've got under the hood. Today's pair of games in particular are a great opportunity with the split squads, and guys like Rychel, Dano, Wennberg, and Hoeffel all took advantage.
  • Net Front Presence - If there's a theme for today's games, it was getting to the net. More than half the goals scored by the Blue Jackets came from redirections or rebounds. That's something this team has lacked at times - you have to wonder if it's being emphasized in camp.
  • Power Up - Each game featured a power play goal - nice to see with the way our PP has struggled in the past.

Bottom of the Barrel:

  • Injury Bug - After the win in Carolina, the team announced that Tim Erixon needed to be evaluated back in Columbus after taking a shot off the leg. It didn't sound too serious, but it's still a frustrating situation - and then Boone Jenner's disappearance from the game due to "tightness" - the team tweeted out later that it was a precaution, but again, these are guys you want to see on the ice, not on the trainer's bench.
  • Under the Guns - Both games saw the Jackets outshot by big margins. Now, there is something to be said for quality over quantity, but you don't want to make your goaltenders stop 30+ shots every game while barely pressing the opponent.
  • Boxed Up - Each squad spent quite a bit of time on the PK today. That's not unexpected when you're dealing with a rust and getting your first real "game action" in, particularly with relatively inexperienced lineups, but still not a trend you want to continue.

When all is said and done, that's two games and two wins for the boys in Union Blue. The team will practice tomorrow, then face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday back here at Nationwide Arena as they continue their exhibition schedule.