On Saturday evening, the Blue Jackets turned in one of their more perplexingly awful performances in recent memory, against a team that logic says would provide a prime candidate for victory. With Columbus facing its first back-to-back in a while, an opportunity for immediate vindication presented itself. How would Columbus respond?
Period 1: Dominating Tie
This one started as horrifically as could be imagined. After a quick sojourn up and down the ice, David Savard gathered the puck in his own zone and sent a nifty cross-ice pass . . . directly to Jarome Iginla. Iginla accepted the gift and quickly parked a wrister behind Curtis McElhinney. One turnover, one shot, one goal. Ugh.
From that point forward, the Blue Jackets dominated the period. They outshot the Avalanche 11-3 for the frame, and boasted a gaudy 77.4% team Corsi. Unlike the effort against the Coyotes, the Blue Jackets actually skated (as in, bending the knees, lifting the feet, the whole thing . . . ). They put pressure on the Avalanche, maintained possession for long periods of time and looked like an entirely different club. What seemed inevitable came to pass at the 11:35 mark, just after the expiration of a Columbus power play. Cody Goloubef (making his return after injury, in lieu of Dalton Prout), zinged the puck from the right half wall toward the crease. Brandon Dubinsky was waiting with stick on the ice, and deflected the puck past Semyon Varlamov for the tying marker. It was also Dubinksy's 100th NHL goal -- a notable benchmark. Jack Johnson garnered the second assist, continuing the trend of blue liners accumulating points.
The remainder of the period was more of the same, the Blue Jackets exerting pressure, and Colorado staving them off. McElhinney made two nice saves on the three shots he faced, and the penalty killing unit summarily dispatched a high sticking call against Sean Collins in the final five minutes. But for a single miscue, and some nice Varlamov saves, this could have easily been 3 - 0 Columbus. Still, a nice start. Could they keep it up?
Period 2: Regressive Tie
Remember that shot total from the 1st? Remember that Corsi? Fuggedaboudit . . . The Columbus team that stifled the Avalanche via extended possession in the first chose to take the second period off. The Avalanche generated 19 shots on goal (vs. 12 for the Blue Jackets) during the second, and the overall Corsi for the game waned from 77.4 to 54.6. Colorado upped their game -- obviously -- but Columbus contributed to the chaos with some suspect puck handling and looser defense, allowing this one to turn into a Mile High Track Meet.
It all began well enough, when Brandon Dubinsky put the puck behind Varlamov for the second time this evening just 1:37 into the period. Matt Calvert earned the primary assist, with Cody Goloubef picking up his second point of the night. At that point, it seemed as though the Blue Jackets were poised to pick up right were they left off in the 1st, and extend their dominance. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
Four minutes later, Gabriel Landeskog got the puck past David Savard along the left wing wall, creating an odd man rush. Jack Johnson did his part and eliminated the passing target, but McElhinney retreated into his net as Landskog cut to the crease and easily tucked a backhand behind McElhinney. Tie game. McElhinney vindicated himself a few minutes later, with an incredible diving save, deflecting the puck with the shaft of his stick. That was immediately followed by another breakaway, which was foiled by the crossbar. Columbus was lucky to escape that exchange with a tie game.
Showing their resilience once again, the Blue Jackets took the lead two minutes later. It was as beautiful a hockey play as you would want to see, going from Foligno to Hartnell to Johansen to the back of the net. That line is magical, and Todd Richards would be well advised to etch that one in stone.
Most of the rest of the period was spent with the Blue Jackets chasing the Avalanche in the defensive zone. An interference call against Goloubef was killed quickly, and a delay of game penalty against Jack Johnson was negated when Jerome Iginla was called for throwing a stick -- the second time in two games that rare penalty has been called.
Colorado got the equalizer at the 15:30 mark, when David Savard elected the wrong route to chase Cody McLeod, and McElhinney was just a bit too inattentive. McLeod circled to McElhinney's left, and jammed a wrap-around attempt inside the post. The puck bounced up and in, and the tie was restored.
Two periods. Two vastly different performance levels. Same result. What would the third period provide?
Period 3: Poetic Justice
Not surprising, the 3rd period presented an entirely different scenario than either of the first two stanzas. A total of 11 shots on goal were fired in anger during the period -- seven by Colorado and a mere four by Columbus. Each team took a penalty, and the ensuing power play was dispatched with relative ease.
The bulk of the period was spent in the middle third of the ice, with periodic brief flurries of opportunity. Curtis McElhinney made a couple of nice saves at key junctures. At the other end of the ice, Semyon Varlamov awoke from naps long enough to stick aside the few chances that he saw. As this one wound down to the "One minute left in the period" warning, overtime seemed inevitable, due simply to inertia. However, destiny would have to wait.
Scott Hartnell took the puck in his own zone, and charged down the right wing boards, tenaciously staving off the aggressive checking of Erik Johnson. Just before Johnson plowed Hartnell to the ice near the right circle, Hartnell managed to get the puck to Nick Foligno. Foligno, in turn, saw David Savard entering the top of the zone in the middle, and fed the puck to him. Savard let fly with the point shot, which caught the edge of Borna Rendulic's stick, and shot over Varlamov's arm into the net. After having a key role in the first two Avalanche tallies, this one was sweet vindication for Savard. Foligno and Hartnell picked up their second assists of the evening.
Confronted with the extra attacker, the Blue Jackets played a responsible, swarming defense for the final 1:01 of the game, and just missed tallying an empty-netter, which found the twine a split second too late. Nonetheless, it was a regulation victory that helped rinse the bad taste of the previous evening from everyone's mouth, bring the club back to .500 for both the season and 2015, and sends them to Dallas with a bit of momentum.
Summing It Up:
This one was equal measures sublime and ridiculous. The play of Ryan Johansen, Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Hartnell and Cody Goloubef was gratifying to watch. Johansen looks positively dangerous once again, and narrowly missed having the game-winner himself, rattling a laser off the post. Hartnell just gets the job done . . . no matter what it takes. Dubinsky looked incredibly comfortable and tenacious. If his scoring touch has returned, it means nothing but good things for the Blue Jackets. Goloubef was all over the ice, made smart plays, and showed that he belongs at this level.
Honorably mention to Matt Calvert and Curtis McElhinney. Calvert was all over the ice in virtually every situation, and deserved more recognition on the scoresheet than he got. He has found another gear of late, and it is good to see. He is flourishing in Cam Atkinson's absence, and brings a complete 200 foot game.
The first period play -- turnover aside -- was precisely the sort of effort the club should be offering for sixty minutes every game. That's the sublime. The ridiculous was that the same team that did that turned in an inexplicable defensive effort in the second. Always the master of understatement, Todd Richards noted that "the game got away from us a bit in the second." Yah think? Still, due to some timely scoring efforts, the Blue Jackets managed to keep it in a tie, and came through when they needed it most. It's two points, and keeps the hunt alive. However, a bit less drama would be appreciated in the future.
Next up are the Dallas Stars, who have also had more than their share of schizophrenic performances this season. That one promises to be a barn burner. Stay tuned.