While the precise definition of "rhapsody" varies somewhat by source, the essence of the musical definition is a piece of music that evokes a variety of distinct emotions, while itself being somewhat lacking in defined form. That just about sums this one up perfectly, so with appropriate apologies to the late Freddie Mercury & Queen, let's get started.
Period One: Quiet Notes
Edmonton has been the scene of some vicious crimes perpetrated by the Oilers upon the unsuspecting Blue Jackets, and coach Todd Richards was intent upon making sure that they were not caught flat footed on this visit. Mission accomplished, although probably not quite in the way he envisioned. Or maybe it was . . .
The Blue Jackets featured a bit of a hodgepodge of a lineup, with Ryan Craig drawing in for the serially-injured Brandon Dubinsky and Curtis McElhinney in net. This, in turn, resulted in some unorthodox line combinations, with the accompanying variability in structure and performance. As is so frequently the case when Columbus faces a team perceived as "fast", the Blue Jackets were hyper-aware of the Oilers' speedy potential. As a result, their offense consisted largely of a "fire and forget" strategy that had them bailing from the offensive zone at the first available opportunity, in order to prevent being caught trailing the play.
While this methodology had the inevitable impact of putting a strain on offensive production (like a total of four shots on goal in the period. Yes, four.), it does enable some greater pressure in the neutral zone and tends to avoid the odd man rush. Truthfully, the Blue Jackets showed some decent structure throughout the period, supported each other in the defensive zone, where they bent, but didn't break. The key was a strong showing by McElhinney in turning away all 14 shots he faced.
The Blue Jackets made the most of their shooting opportunities, however, as David Savard hit pay dirt on the first Columbus shot of the game. It came 5:35 into the game -- which says something in itself -- during a 4-on-4 interval while Kevin Connauton and Derek Roy served coincidental minors. Savard took the puck high on the right, skated in unchallenged, made a nifty quick slide toward the middle to move Ben Scrivens' eyes, and blew it into the back of the net. It was Savard's 11th tally of the season, and puts him just one goal shy of the franchise record for goals by a defenseman in a season. Imagine . . . Alexander Wennberg and Scott Hartnell earned the assists to give the Blue Jackets the early lead.
Any good piece of music requires an underlying thread of instrumental focus, and this game featured two: the whistle and the pipe. The Blue Jackets continued their penalty box travails, spending six minutes in the box in the opening period, and lucky to escape without a goal against. Meanwhile, both clubs demonstrated amazing accuracy and agility, consistently finding either goal posts or crossbars with the little rubber disc. The iron pipe helped as much as it hurt, so as the period wound down, Columbus could chalk up a decent road period, despite the numbers. Add the hooking penalty that Benoit Pouliot took against Alexander Wennberg with just seven seconds left in the period, and the mood entering the room was entirely positive.
Period Two: Dissonant Tones
The Blue Jackets opened the frame on the power play, and had some truly golden opportunities, but could not convert. Connauton (playing in front of his home-town crowd) and Hartnell missed wide open nets on consecutive plays, and a number of other near misses were evident during the extra man situation. Little did they know that this would be their only extra-man opportunity of the evening.
As noted at the beginning, a rhapsody means that a variety of emotions are involved, and the second period fit the bill. Despite the frustration on the power play, the Blue Jackets showed more early pressure, and managed to extend their lead just 3:50 into the frame. Ryan Murray gathered the puck at the point, and found Ryan Johansen at the top of the right circle. Johansen released a quick laser beam that beat Scrivens, and Columbus had the 2- 0 lead. Murray and Cam Atkinson had the assists on the play.
Unfortunately, the music of this period turned dissonant from this point on, punctuated once again by the referee's whistle. Connauton went off at 4:39 for hooking, Rene Borque exited at 9:13 for interference, and Nick Foligno received a tripping minor at 12:45. Three minors during a single period puts a lot of stress on the penalty kill players -- particularly in the period of the long change. While Edmonton is fast, they are also quick, and it was more the sudden stops and reversals that were catching the Blue Jackets flat-footed, leading to the grabbing and sticking fouls that inevitably result from being a step behind.
It was during Borque's penalty that Edmonton drew first blood. As the power play was winding down, Pouliot managed to weave his way deep, then threaded a pass through a mass of bodies to Derek Roy to McElhinney's left. McElhinney was caught off balance, and could not get back to cover open side. 2 -1 Blue Jackets, with Pouliot and Nail Yakupov getting the helpers. Edmonton kept the pressure on for the remainder of the period, making some pipe music of their own along the way, and Columbus was truly fortunate to escape the second with a lead. Shots were 12 - 7 Edmonton for the period, but all but two of the Columbus shots came within the first eight minutes of the period.
As the Blue Jackets' legs wearied, they abandoned their supportive defense, resorting to the collapsing Defense of Doom, providing tons of time and space for the Oilers up high -- which they could quickly convert to chances down low through their quickness. McElhinney -- as with Sergei Bobrovsky before him -- showed some frustration at the increasing traffic and the screening coming from his own players.
Period 3: Crescendo
While the first was relatively sedate, and the second was mostly mournful, after a hopeful opening, the third was a raucous journey from uplifting to depressing -- and everything in between. Edmonton took only 1:28 to even the game, as Jack Johnson lost an edge trying to skate the puck out of the zone. Jordan Eberle accepted the gift, charged in to McElhinney's right, then shoveled the puck across the crease to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the easy equalizer. Eberle earned the lone assist on the play. Adding insult to injury was the fact that the sequence started with a Cam Atkinson opportunity at the opposite end that was denied by . . . yep, the pipe.
It was now a whole new ball game as they say, and while the Blue Jackets seemed to have regained their legs, they could not translate that into offensive opportunity or stifling defense. Columbus surrendered a stunning 18 shots on goal in the period, while mustering only eight for themselves. With that many shots, one is bound to find its way into the net, and the inevitable occurred at the 9:15 mark. Andrew Ference slid the puck along the blue line to Oscar Klefborn, who fired a shot wide to McElhinney's right. However, in a play more frequently seen at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the puck ricocheted off the boards like a trampoline, directly to the waiting Nail Yakupov to McElhinney's left. Yakupov did not miss the open net, and now the home team had the lead. At this point, the music took on definite dirge qualities.
The Blue Jackets have been plagued all season by the annoying tendency to allow an opposition goal within moments of scoring one of their own. Edmonton contract that disease on this night, surrendering the equalizing marker just 54 seconds after taking the lead. With the fourth line on the ice, Mark Letestu (also native to the area, and with a following in the stands) found himself in the unusual position of being high on the left point. Jared Boll and Ryan Craig had staked out territory directly in front of Scrivens, who never saw Letestu's blast. All square, just nine seconds past the midway point of the period. Jack Johnson earned the only assist on the play.
The balance of the period was one of give and take, with Edmonton (obviously) having the better of the play. Still, the Blue Jackets had their own chances, punctuated by an amazing play by Marko Dano as time wound down. Dano toe-dragged his way through the Oilers defense, skated directly in on Scrivens, and let a low shot go from in tight. Naturally, it was stopped by . . . .the pipe. Still, Columbus had earned another road point, and had the chance for more.
Overtime was a microcosm of the rest of the game, with Edmonton out-shooting the Blue Jackets 3 - 1, but neither side able to convert. On to the shootout, for the second time in a week for these two clubs. The first round saw no tallies, as both Letestu and Nugent-Hopkins came up empty. In the second round, Ryan Johansen made his slow . .. slower . . .quick backhand move work for a tally, and Jordan Eberle took advantage of McElhinney's gaping five hole. On to round three, where Friday night's hero -- Alexander Wennberg -- was poised to repeat the feat. He did not disappoint, this time putting a nasty backhand move on Scrivens for the tally. That put things in the hands of Derek Roy, who was stymied by McElhinney for yet another road win for the boys in blue.
Somehow, the Blue Jackets found a way to earn another road win, even after surrendering a two goal lead, and falling behind early in the third. While Curtis McElhinney deserves all of the accolades that come his way, kudos also have to go to youngsters Alexander Wennberg and Marko Dano. Dano was around the puck all night long, spent more time with Scrivens than his own defensemen, and was simply snakebite in terms of the scoresheet. Wennberg was everywhere, in every situation, and earned the highest TOI among forwards . . . by far . . .with over 21 minutes. Heady stuff for a youngster. Ryan Murray seemed to be finding his game, and Scott Hartnell was his usual presence. Artem Anisimov, Jack Johnson and Johansen also were very visible and contributed throughout.
Obviously, Columbus cannot make a living by surrendering 47 shots, while mustering only 20. You don't even want to see what the Corsi numbers looked like. Still, they found a way to win. This was a strange, strange game. There were moments of structure and solid play, some moments that were more like pond hockey, and still others that were an inexplicable wish-mosh of . . . .well, I'm just not sure. That's what a rhapsody is all about -- it puts you through the emotional wringer, keeps you guessing, and in the end provides a memorable experience. So it was on this night in Edmonton. Now, on to Vancouver . . .and the Evil Sedin Twins. Stay tuned.