Coming into this late afternoon affair at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets got some good news in the form of the activation of Sergei Bobrovsky. Although Bob would not start this one, it was a positive note heading into the final 21 games. That was the only good news, however, as both Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Calvert are out for an extended period, due to concussion-like symptoms. Newly acquired David Clarkson took the wing on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno, while Brian Gibbons was called up to fill the remaining void. So, on the bright side, Columbus had no defensemen playing forward on this night.
With the Devils being 28th in the NHL in scoring, and the Blue Jackets sitting 24th, this did not figure to be a high scoring affair, and the game did not disappoint in that regard. For obvious reasons, we'll dispatch with the period-by-period recitation, and get down to the essentials.
Addressing one of the big questions entering the evening. David Clarkson looked like a player figuring out where his new teammates were, but was very involved in the play, showed a nose for the puck, and did nothing to earn the ire of the assembled crowd of over 17,000. He ended the night with 2 shots on goal, 3 shots blocked, 3 shots missed, 4 hits and 1 blocked a shot of his own. His 16:13 of ice time trailed only Johansen, Foligno, Atkinson and Wennberg, and he saw some meaningful time on the power play. That included a nasty deflection in first that had Schneider beaten, but skittered just outside the post. Little did anyone realize that Clarkson's effort was the closest a Blue Jacket would come to scoring all night.
Unlike recent games, Columbus came out strong. They skated hard, played smart defense and registered the first nine shots of the game. In fact, New Jersey did not register a shot until just over five minutes were left in the period. However, Cory Schneider had the answer for everything the Blue Jackets could throw at him. In his post game remarks, coach Todd Richards stated that he "liked our first period." I'd amend that by saying that I loved the first eleven minutes of the first. The Blue Jackets did not register a shot for the remainder of the period. In the meantime, New Jersey scored on their third shot of the game. With 4:13 left, Andy Greene took the puck down to McElhinney's right, and simply beat Curtis high glove. No screen, no deception -- McElhinney simply didn't get the glove up fast enough. Patrik Elias earned the assist, and Columbus was once again compelled to come from behind. The period ended 9 - 6 in shots on goal, and you had the feeling that the Blue Jackets would eventually get rewarded. Your feeling would have been wrong.
The second was not a good period for the Blue Jackets. While they managed to square the shots on goal for the period at 8 - 8 , much of the period was spent in their own zone, and McElhinney had to make some strong saves to keep this one within a single goal. Still, there were many positives, as Columbus dominated the face-off circle (33 - 17 for the night), and had more takeaways and blocked shots. They just could not get the puck to enter the net.
In the third, the Blue Jackets put 16 shots on goal, while allowing only five for the Devils. They were hampered by an ill-timed holding penalty on Dalton Prout with 4:20 left in the period, which took away a much-needed two minutes of continued offensive pressure. While the penalty was easily killed (the PK unit was perfect for the night), that time could not be regained. The power play did not strike pay dirt, but they generated eight shots with the extra man, moved the puck well once in the zone, and just could not beat Schneider. Their entrances left something to be desired, but that was largely attributable to the overall raggedness in execution that is the natural extension of once again having to adjust to new faces and new roles on the ice. Also give New Jersey credit for playing their customary shut-down game to a tee. They clogged the middle, challenged the puck high in the zone, and made few real mistakes. Artem Anisimov had perhaps the best even strength chances, but Schneider denied him with two outstanding saves.
The final margin was provided by Travis Zajac's empty netter with thirty seconds left in the game. Stephen Gionta and Mike Cammalleri had the helpers, and Schneider had another shutout in his pocket.
This one will provide every sector with the fan base with some fodder. The pessimists will focus on the final result and point to it as proof the team sucks and should be dismantled. The optimists will note the statistical domination as proof the club is on the right track. The pragmatists will cite a solid effort under trying circumstances, but note that injuries have simply sapped the chemistry and essence of the club for this season.
Count me among the pragmatists. There were a lot of good individual efforts out there tonight, but a hot goaltender in the other crease and just enough errors in execution to stifle some opportunities conspired to create the final tally. Back at it in 24 hours in Pittsburgh. Richards would not commit to a goalie for tomorrow night's tilt, but one would thing that Bob might provide a needed boost in emotion, as well as skill. Stay tuned.