The Blue Jackets returned home from a two-game road trip that saw them tally eight goals. Unfortunately, they surrendered ten over the two games, but managed a split versus Dallas and Arizona. With the net situation at best an iffy proposition, and defensemen David Savard and Jack Johnson sidelined, this one promised to be . . . interesting. Fortunately, the visitors on this night were the Philadelphia Flyers, who for some reason find it exceedingly difficult to beat the Blue Jackets, particularly at Nationwide. The last time the Flyers skated off Nationwide ice with a victory, the year was 2005, and Robert Esche out-dueled Mark Denis for the win. The last four contests between the squads have gone to Columbus, so the 14,000+ assembled for this one hoped that history would repeat.
Period One: Structure
In his post-game remarks, John Tortorella acknowledged that he was concerned about how the club would come out of the blocks on this night:
I was really concerned what we were going to be like after coming off the road, with the amount of hockey that we've played. I thought we had a really good start -- I was really happy about that.
Indeed, the Blue Jackets started this one strong. They skated to the puck, supported each other, maintained their spacing and moved as a unit up and down the ice. As you might expect, this enabled some organized exits and entries, and largely kept the Flyers on their heels early. Steve Mason was strong early, stifling a few prime opportunities. At the other end, Joonas Korpisalo was allowed to ease into the game a bit, facing only nine shots in the opening frame. Not surprisingly, he seemed a bit edgy and hyperactive in the early going -- picture Pascal LeClaire --- and surrendered some rather alarming rebounds. However, the structure came to his aid, clearing the pucks before any harm could result.
The Blue Jackets' momentum was stalled by a couple of early penalties by Ryan Johansen (tripping) and Dalton Prout (boarding). However, the PK unit had little difficulty defusing the extra man situations, and even created opportunities of their own, courtesy of Gregory Campbell and Matt Calvert. Calvert, as usual was all over the ice in this one, and Tortorella was not hesitant to sing his praises post-game:
He's a guy I am always looking up and down the bench for in all situations. He deserves, because he's reliable away from the puck, and his tenaciousness in how he goes after pucks. . . . Not too many guys can do that -- pull away and do those types of things. He does the stuff on the wall. . .Matt Calvert can lead by example -- he gets it.
The Blue Jackets broke through at the 14:01 mark, courtesy of Brandon Saad. Although it goes in the books as an even strength goal, this one was, in reality, a power play tally, coming precisely two minutes after Scott Laughton went off for hooking. Brandon Dubinsky found Saad lurking relatively unmarked by Steve Mason's left post. Saad had time to turn, convince Mason he was going high glove, then slip the puck deftly through the five hole. The all-important first goal of the game belonged to Columbus, with Kevin Connauton earning the second assist on the play.
As the period wound down, the play became a bit looser, with each club having some solid chances, and the Flyers showing some more extended possession in the offensive zone. Late in the period, Brandon Dubinsky threw a hit on Jake Voracek against the far boards, which drew the Flyers' collective ire, and resulted in a melee. When all was said and done, Dubinsky had two minutes for kneeing and five for fighting, and Matt Calvert had two minutes for roughing. Radko Gudas matched Calvert's two, and Wayne Simmonds matched Dubinsky's total with two for instigating and five for fighting. He also earned a ten minute misconduct. The net result was no change on the ice, and the clubs went off with the Blue Jackets holding the 1 - 0 lead. Shots were 16 - 9 in favor of the home club -- a good beginning.
Period Two: Korpisalo Emerges
The second period was a strange one, in that the end result had the Blue Jackets extending their lead to 2 - 0, but optics painted a bit more perilous picture. Columbus continued to skate with energy, but was generally less responsible with the puck, and had some rather glaring defensive lapses. However, Joonas Korpisalo came to the rescue, in much the same way that Sergei Bobrovsky has become accustomed to saving the day. (After the game, Ryan Murray noted that Korpisalo reminded the guys of Bob in the way he played.)
Philadelphia came out hard, forcing the play and creating some chances. Jake Voracek had a prime early chance that was snuffed by Korpisalo, and the defense negated some other potentially dangerous situations with some timely stick play. However, the Flyers were allowed to gain entry to the offensive zone far too easily -- a theme that would come back to haunt Columbus in this one. In one particularly bad sequence, the Flyers had back-to-back odd man rushes due to simple defensive lapses. However, a vigorous back check and a timely save from Korpisalo stifled these chances as well. To the Blue Jackets' credit, they refused to give up on plays -- even after making a mistake -- and that may well have been the deciding factor in this one.
Columbus went penalty free for the period, while gaining six minutes of power play time, courtesy of an interference call against Claude Giroux at 3:51, and a double minor for high sticking against R.J. Umberger at the 15:13 mark. Both extra man situations were remarkable for their lack of productive chances. The Blue Jackets generated nothing in response to the Giroux penalty, and were almost comically bad for the majority of the Umberger double minor. They were incapable of entering the zone cleanly, and turned the puck over once they did gain entry. The best single chance came from the Flyers. Korpisalo made the save, but the puck trickled behind him in the blue paint. Enter Nick Foligno to sweep it to safety. He then proceeded to facilitate the lead-extending goal.
At the 18:09 mark, the Blue Jackets managed a decent entry, and got the puck deep behind Mason. Michael del Zotto grabbed the puck, however, apparently negating the effort. Not so. Foligno stripped him of the puck, and in one motion zipped the puck up high to Ryan Murray between the circles. Murray walked in and ripped one high to Mason's stick side. 2 - 0 Columbus, with Foligno and Scott Hartnell notching the assists. Murray looked skyward after the puck went in, and post-game acknowledged that it was a relief to get the goal after the power play had started so poorly.
Shots were 10 - 10 for the second period, which pretty accurately reflected the respective threat opportunities. Korpisalo was the difference, and the Blue Jackets would need to tighten things up entering the third with a two goal lead.
Period Three: Deja Vu
The final period carried much of the same feeling as the second as it got underway. A couple of early chances by the Blue Jackets went unfulfilled, as did an early power play when Matt Read was sent off for goaltender interference, after he flew through the air and caught Korpisalo in the head with his knee. The Flyers seemed to draw some strength from this, began to exert more pressure. The Blue Jackets had difficulty winning the board battles (a fact noted by Tortorella after the game), and that served to exacerbate the possession deficit.
A sense of inevitability began to settle in as the Flyers prolonged their stays in the offensive zone, and that sense was realized at the 5:32 mark. An obviously tired Columbus unit spent more time reaching than skating, and Scott Laughton took advantage. He looped across the middle to the right circle, and flew a wicked wrister over Korpisalo's right shoulder to narrow the lead to one. Matt Read and Nick Schultz had the helpers, and now it was a hockey game.
Another Columbus power play went for naught after Nick Schultz was called for hooking at 7:19, after which the Flyers resumed the pressure. Steve Mason made a couple of nice saves on Columbus chances in the middle of the period, including a rare Ryan Johansen shot, and Korpisalo remained steady. Overall, however, the Blue Jackets seemed edgier and less organized in their own zone, which again led to that sense of inevitability. At 14:19, that sense was again realized.
Sean Couturier entered the offensive zone at the far left, with Dalton Prout in the vicinity. Prout was unable to stop the pass to Jakub Voracek, who had a step on Justin Falk just ahead of Couturier. As Falk caught up, Voracek let loose a nasty wrister. Korpisalo was in position on the near post, buy appeared to either be fooled by the shot or unable to pick up the puck quickly enough due to a partial screen by Falk's stick. The puck zipped high into the far corner of the net, and the game was tied. Couturier and Gudas earned the assists. It was only Voracek's third goal of the campaign, but coming against his former club likely made it particularly satisfying.
This seemed to arouse the Blue Jackets, and they again found their structure. Matt Calvert had another breakaway denied by Mason, and Atkinson, Foligno and Hartnell all had opportunities, with no success. A late rush by the Flyers was negated by a remarkable Korpisalo save, demonstrating a degree of flexibility that had most men in the crowd grimacing.
Neither club could take advantage as the clock wound down, and this one headed to OT. Shots were 12 - 8 in the Flyers' favor for the frame.
The Blue Jackets had the overall advantage during the five minutes of 3-on-3, after surrendering an early chance that was snuffed by Korpisalo. Tortorella experimented with some all-forward deployments, which seemed to work reasonably well, without sacrificing defensive responsibility. Columbus had the edge in shots 3 -1, but neither club could find the back of the net. On to the skill competition.
Cam Atkinson started things off beautifully for the home team, inducing Mason to dart right, while Atkinson tucked the puck neatly behind him. Meanwhile Korpisalo neatly denied both Voracek and Claude Giroux in the first two rounds. Mason, for his part, did not fall for the patented Ryan Johansen slow-play shot, denying him in Round 2.
In the final round of regulation, Mason stopped Alexander Wennberg's effort, and Korpisalo faced Wayne Simmonds with the final Flyers' chance. Simmonds skated straight in, and got Korpisalo to flinch. That was all it took, as the five hole was opened, and Simmonds took advantage. On to extra sessions.
Steve Mason denied Nick Foligno and Brandon Saad in rounds four and five, with Foligno just missing wide. Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, Korpisalo stuffed Scott Laughton and Matt Read. On to round six, and I'll let John Tortorella provide some context for the highly technical decision making process underway at the bench:
I was asking the questions, because I'm still not familiar with the team, and Hartsy wasn't any help either as far as people. . . he gave me a look and I said "forget it." . . . But Dubi was all there like a dog on a bone. I think it was Nick who yelled "Use Dubi!"
So, after that careful deliberative process, Brandon Dubinsky emerged, took the puck to Mason's left, and zipped the puck glove side into the net. That left only Brayden Schenn standing between the Blue Jackets and a vital two points. Schenn started off to Korpisalo's left, then skated across the crease, with Korpisalo tracking him. As he reached the right post, he let loose with a wrister that Korpisalo knocked away with his blocker, sealing his first victory. Korpisalo punched the air in celebration, and was quickly mobbed by the squad. After the game, the players were unanimous in their praise of the young net minder's efforts, and John Tortorella similarly lauded the performance.
- Tortorella said it best when he noted that where the club has previously found ways to lose, they found a way to win tonight.
- The overall structure of the team's play was much better, but they are still looking for sixty minutes without lapsing into old habits. On the positive side, they are able to find their game after losing it.
- Ryan Johansen returned to the lineup, but was largely a non-factor. He performed well in the face-off circle, but had only one real scoring chance, and simply lacked the dynamic quality he had last year. Tortorella noted that "we still have some work to do there . . . everything about his game could be better." Far from sounding defeatist about the proposition, Tortorella noted that it is "part of the process" that Johansen simply needs more coaching, more video work and time to absorb what the staff is trying to convey. More on this later this week.
- Ryan Murray pulled a ridiculous 31:49 of ice time -- more than Kevin Connauton and Dalton Prout, combined, and seven minutes more than the next defenseman, Fedor Tyutin. It shows how much Torts trusts him, and Murray himself had no issue with the time, and in fact seemed to relish it. He was a presence all night long, in all three zones. However, that being said, those kind of minutes are not a long term solution.
- Offensively, Nick Foligno led the way with 22:01 of ice time, and his game is really starting to take off. Getting a few pucks in the net has done wonders for his confidence, and it shows in his overall play. Alexander Wennberg notched over 21 minutes, showing how much trust he has engendered. Ryan Johansen also drew over 20 minutes, despite his indifferent play. Surprisingly, William Karlsson had only 12 minutes of ice time. He has not been quite the presence in recent games, and the youngster likely is also going through "the process."
- It was great to see Korpisalo calm down and increasingly take control as the game progressed. Although Simmonds got the better of him in the shootout, he was masterful in all of the other rounds. This has to be a great confidence builder for the kid. Well done.
- This was a solid win that provides some momentum going into Pittsburgh on Monday. The Penguins lost to Carolina Saturday night, and are struggling mightily. It's a great opportunity for the Blue Jackets to enter the Christmas break with some needed points, and finally get some well deserved rest, and potentially see some of the injured return. Stay tuned.