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Game Recap #21: Blue Jackets Stun Predators

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On the heels of a disappointing performance in Ottawa, the Blue Jackets hosted a familiar nemesis in the Nashville Predators. What followed was beyond expections

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The tail end of the most recent back-to-back featured Sergei Bobrovsky's return to the net, but otherwise the personnel remained the same.  Michael Chaput was returned to Lake Erie earlier in the day, having fulfilled his insurance policy role in Ottawa.  Of course, to say that the personnel were largely the same is not to say that the combinations would necessarily be the same, or survive more than a few shifts, as John Tortorella continues the process of fine tuning the deployments.  Let's see what happened.

Period One:  Making a Statement

The Blue Jackets started much as they have of late under Tortorella's tutelage, good skating, solid pressure in the neutral zone and on the forecheck.  The first few shifts also showcased their ability to exit their own zone deftly and quickly.  Nashville was unable to establish either an offensive presence or an effective forecheck.  A quasi-breakaway was negated through a nice play by Kevin Connauton.  And then the fun began.

Just 2:35 into the contest, Tortorella dispatched the Kerby Rychel, Gregory Campbell, Josh Anderson line -- and they decided to show what they can do. After the three did a nice job of gaining possession and cycling behind Pekka Rinne's net, Rychel secured the puck and made a sweet backhand centering pass, fooling those who thought he was going to continue behind the net.  Rychel's feed found Campbell's stick point blank to Rinne's right, and he did not miss.   The Blue Jackets had the first goal of the game -- on their first shot of the game -- with Anderson picking up the second helper on the play.

Less than two minutes later, Columbus would strike again -- this time with a familiar name from goals past.  After the Blue Jackets won an offensive face-off to Rinne's right, Nashville tipped the puck high, and seemed to think they had the zone cleared.  Thanks to the quickness and stick of Ryan Murray, however, the puck stayed in the zone.  Murray zipped a pass to Boone Jenner, who found Johansen creeping in from the right dot  Johansen stared Rinne down -- not unlike his patented shoot-out moves -- then moved quickly to the middle and parked a backhand in the net, simultaneously with Brandon Saad being parked in the net.  Nashville protested, but the puck crossed the line before the net came off the moorings, and Rinne was unmolested.  Good goal.  2 - 0 lead, with a much-needed goal for Johansen.  Jenner and Murray earned the assists.

As you might expect, Nashville pinned their ears back and started coming hard.  The Blue Jackets did a nice job of maintaining defensive structure, largely kept the shots and threats to the perimeter.  Bobrovsky had a clear view of the shots that did come his way, and either smothered them or deflected them harmlessly to the corner. However, the earlier flow of seamless exits was a bit disrupted, and the Blue Jackets had difficulty establishing much of a sustained offensive presence for the middle third of the period.  However, their sticks -- and bodies -- were active.  Columbus stymied numerous passes and chances with their sticks, and blocked an amazing 14 shots in the frame.  John Tortorella had to be beaming.

Another positive for the frame was the absence of any penalties, giving the PK a necessary rest on a back-to-back finisher.  Nashville dominated the face-off circle, however, 13 - 7, and Columbus manged only five shots in the period, compared to ten for the Predators.  Efficiency is great, but putting the puck on net is vital.  Still, a 2 - 0 lead vs. Pekka Rinne is noteworthy in itself.  It just shows that hockey is a funny game. In the first against Ottawa, Columbus had twice the chances they did tonight, but came away with nothing.  The Hockey Gods are fickle creatures.

Period Two:  Pulling Together

Despite the two goal advantage, it is a virtual certainty that John Tortorella reminded the club that they had a less than steller second period against the Senators on Thursday, and likely cautioned them not to repeat the effort.  However, whatever effort was to be forthcoming would have to come with heroic effort levels, as word came over the Press Box intercom that neither Fedory Tyutin nor Cody Goloubef would return to the game, due to upper body injuries.  So whatever was to happen would need to occur with just four defensemen.

Play was largely even for the first five minutes of the frame, with each team garnering three shots, the Blue Jackets remaining very active defensively, and improving in the face-off circle.  Nashville likely had a slight edge in possession time, but the Blue Jackets avoided an overly cautious approach that would not be surprising with a depleted defensive corps.  To drive home the point, they extended their lead.

With just 5:17 gone in the period, Brandon Saad tipped the puck to Johansen high in the defensive zone. Johansen immediately found Jenner on the right, which started a two-on-one rush.  WIth Johansen posing the threat on the left, Jenner bore down on Rinne and shot low.  Rinne made the stop, but Jenner fought through the check and found the rebound, netting it just to Rinne's left.  That was Boone's tenth of the campaign, with Johansen and Saad getting the assists.  3 - 0 for the home team.

At 12:07, Ryan Johansen was whistled for a very sketchy hooking call -- not ideal with four blue line. Again, the home club eschewed caution and demonstrated the same aggressive PK style that has served them well of late.  The penalty ws dispatched without a credible threat, and when Johansen exited the box, he and Nick Foligno architected a threat of their own.

After a few minutes of even play, things got a little scrambly for the Blue Jacket, as Nashville again tried to assert its influence in the offensive zone.  Enter Sergei Bobrovsky.  Bobrovsky was at his calm, calculating best, highlighted by an amazing sequence of consecutive saves with 7:25 left in the frame, including an incredible stop on James Neal. It was a synergistic display between goalie and skaters, each drawing energy from the efforts of the other.

With 1:59 left in the second, Matt Calvert was called for high sticking -- another inconvenient penalty.  Once again, the Blue Jackets were structured, appropriately aggressive, and killed the penalty with cold efficiency.  The Predators carried over one second of power play into the third, but the fans were roaring their appreciation as the clubs skated off the ice.

Truly, this was a remarkable, skilled and gutsy period of hockey for a club with its back against the wall, despite the advantage on the scoreboard.  Yes, they were again outshot 17 - 7, but under the circumstances, any criticism on that score would seem petty.  Now, they would need one more period, avoiding the prevent defense, to bring this one home.

Period Three:  Surviving with Style

As the third period got underway, the Blue Jackets were clearly in defensive mode.  Not scrambling, but paying extr attention to the defensive details.  The sticks were active, and Bobrovsky was solid.  Hovwever, at 2:11, Kerby Rychell was called for roughing in a post-save scrum, giving Nashville its third extra man advantage of the night.  Sergei Bobrovsky again came to the fore, making a great save with 35 seconds left in the power play, and the skaters did the rest.  Even after the penalty was over, the Predators spent a lot of time in the Blue Jackets zone.  Seven minutes into the period, the Blue Jackets were still looking for their first shot on goal.  However, consecutive shifts by the line featuring Rene Bourque, Matt Calvert and William Karlsson and the top line established some offensive presence.  Another nice rush by Foligno and Atkinson posed  a threat and disrupted Nashville's momentum.

Just before the midpoint of the period, the Blue Jackets caught a much needed brek when James Neal was whistled for taking liberties with Bobrovsky.   The power play unit did its job -- maintaining possession of the puck -- and posed three credible threats -- translating into their first three shots of the period.   Though the powere play did not register a goal, it did re-orient the ice.  When that was followed by another shift from the Karlsson line spent entirely in the deep offensive zone, momentum had reached equilibrium.

As Nashville continued to press, an obviously tired Blue Jackets squad refused to take the easy way out.  They stepped up to challenge the neutral zone, kept the sticks active, and  -- perhaps most importantly -- continued to play as a unit.  The Blue Jackets took their timeout t the 3:09 mark, after an icing call., and Nashville responded by pulling Rinne.   With 49.4 seconds left, the Blue Jackets finally got possession of the puck, and Scott Hartnell cashed in the empty netter.  Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno were awarded the assists, wrapping up one of the more improbable shutouts in Blue Jackets history.

Wrapping It Up

There are almost too many takeaways to list, but let's try it anyway:

  • The loss of Cody Goloubef (broken jaw) and Fedor Tyutin (undetermined) is going to hurt, literally and figuratively. In his post game remarks, John Tortorella noted that Goloubef had been playing well and earned more minutes. While Tortorella had no report on Tyutin, it seems clear that Dalton Prout will draw in, and another call-up from Lake Erie seems a virtual certainty.  Perhaps Michael Paliotta, acquired in the Saad trade?
  • Nothing but effusive praise from all quarters for the four guys that played big minutes on the blue line, and did it well.  Tortorella, Johansen, Jenner and Bobrovsky all singled out Jack Johnson, David Savard, Kevin Connauton and Ryan Murray for their efforts.  Murray was everywhere, as was Johnson, and Connauton may have played his best defensive game as a Blue Jacket.
  • Two key moments of the game:  First, Bob's amazing cross-crease left pad save on James Neal in the second period.  Torts pointed to this one especially, although he noted that the view on the bench was that Bob was not going to allow a goal -- "You could just feel it" he said.  Next was an important sequence at the midpoint of the third.  The Blue Jackets had been penned in their zone for the entire period, did not have a shot on goal, and were clearly on fumes.  James Neal gets called for goalie interference, and the power play unit keeps the puck in the zone for virtually the entire two minutes.  That was immediately followed by the Karlsson line eating up more clock in the offensive zone.  Nashville never got the momentum back after that.  Tortorella had special praise for the efforts of Bourque, Karlsson and Calvert, who ate up important minutes responsibly, and created their own brand of havoc
  • Special mention to the fourth line, which was dangerous all night.  Rychel looks very comfortable, and Campbell is playing his best hockey of the season.
  • Praise all the way around (including the coaching staff) for being able to keep the team play going all game, using their sticks to frustrate the Predators, and winning more than their share of battles and races for pucks.
  • The face-off circle still needs work.  Foligno led the club with 53%, the only one to win the face-off battle.  (Think he might just call that fact to Ryan Johansen's attention?)  Speaking of Johansen, he looks like he is having fun playing hockey again, and looked dangerous on the ice for the first time in a while.  He was jovial and engaging in the locker room -- a good sign for the Blue Jackets, and a bad omen for the opposition.
  • A much deserved day off tomorrow, then a 5:00 PM matinee vs. San Jose on Sunday.  Stay tuned.