One of the trickiest things about pre-season hockey is trying to determine: what does it all mean? Last night was no exception, when the Jackets' offense again torched a strong opponent and offered a glimpse of what is possible with the new-look top line of Brandon Saad--Ryan Johansen--Nick Foligno. That glimpse, much like Saturday's glimpse... let's just say it was nice.
Nashville iced most of their starting lineup, and it's not a stretch to say they're a pretty stout defensive team. So, this performance by the top line was not done against CHL and AHL guys filling spots. That said, it's still the pre-season, so... grains of salt and all that.
The game didn't start off well for the Jackets, as the first ten minutes were less than stellar. Columbus would go on the kill early after Dalton Prout took a roughing penalty just 4:51 in. The Jackets completed the kill, but the chippiness would continue with Jared Boll and Cody Bass dusting up after Nashville was called for too many men. In all honesty, once we knew Bass and Boll were both playing, did anyone NOT see this coming?
The down side is that the Jackets went to the Power Play... and gave up a shorty. Austin Watson managed a break-away and solved Sergei Bobrovsky with a backhander to make it 1-0 Preds at the 9:03 mark.
1-0 Predators - Austin Watson at 9:03 - SHG
The Jackets needed some time to get things going, including fighting some penalty troubles throughout the period. But, once they did... well, they did. Late in the first period, Todd Richards sent his new top line over the boards for an offensive zone draw. Saad took the draw, winning it to Johansen, who immediately let loose a sick snapper that beat Pekka Rinne high glove.
1-1 Tie - Ryan Johansen at 17:27, from Brandon Saad - EV
From the stats, it looked like Columbus was outplayed, but they escaped tied. And then the second period happened. There was a lot of talk about the "new look" Power Play, with the 1-3-1 lineup and four forwards and all. Thanks to some sloppy play by the Preds, the Power Play would get a chance to change the fortune of this game for good. After a delay of game (puck over glass) followed by a Bass slash, the CBJ got some 5-on-3 time, and Foligno collected a smooth pass from Johansen and beat Rinne through the five hole.
2-1 Jackets - Nick Foligno at 4:26 from Ryan Johansen and Brandon Saad - PPG
Then, midway through the period, Saad all but dropped the mic on the night. The radio call was one of those where I had to really pay attention to know what happened. I'll let Rob Mixer sum it up from the CBJ website recap:
Saad scored the goal of the night – a magnificent backhand roof job while being slashed and on a delayed penalty – after Carter Hutton had relieved Rinne midway through the second. Foligno fed Saad in the neutral zone, and Saad accelerated through the Nashville defense before finishing it off.
Want more? Here's more.
I’ve seen it live and then three replays and I still don’t know how Brandon Saad did what he just did with that puck. Holy Christmas.— Jim Diamond (@diamondhockey) September 30, 2015
(ok you guys all need to see that goal and we will do our best to make it happen)— NHL Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) September 30, 2015
As of the time I'm writing this, I've pinged the CBJ twitter account to follow up, and they say they're still working on it. We'll keep our eyes peeled, because count me among those who really, really want to see this goal.
3-1 Jackets - Brandon Saad at 13:39, from Dalton Prout and Kevin Connauton - EV
So, after being outplayed in the first, the Jackets managed to turn the tide. And, with Rinne having departed midway through, shortly before Saad's goal, the Jackets were able to pour it on in the opening stages of the third period. Cam Atkinson lobbed a break-away pass for Scott Hartnell, and for the second time in as many games Hartsy was able to bury, less than a minute into the third.
4-1 Jackets - Scott Hartnell at 0:45, from Cam Atkinson and Ryan Murray - EV
Before essentially packing it in, the Jackets top line was at it again, as Saad and Foligno executed a perfect 2-on-1, with Foligno sending a perfect saucer over a diving Seth Jones for Saad to bury.
5-1 Jackets - Brandon Saad (second of game) at 6:21, from Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen - EV
Columbus would cruise the rest of the way, giving up a late goal to Barrett Jackman on a weird (sounded like) deflection in front of Bobrovsky. The announcers made it sound like Bob would like to have it back, but it also sounded like there might have been a weird bounce in front.
5-2 Jackets - Barrett Jackman at 13:53, from Colin Wilson - EV
That would be the final score, as Bobrovsky stopped 35 of 37 shots, going the distance for the second straight game. But, the story last night was the top line, and their dominance of a good team. Another Tweet:
Saad is gonna score so many goals for Columbus. So many goals.— Kristopher Martel (@kmartel_sports) September 30, 2015
From your lips to God's ears.
If you remember my preview, I hinted that I could see a goal total north of 80 for those three based on how they look so far. Last night did nothing to dispel that potential, as the trio combined to score four goals with five assists. And, they did it at even strength throughout the night. If they stay healthy and play together the majority of the season, they could legitimately be one of the best lines in the entire league. They look *that* good together right now.
Again, pre-season. But, this, again, was not a game against scrubs and warm bodies in training camp. While we didn't see all of Nashville's forward weapons (notably absent was Filip Forsberg, for example), the lion's share of their defense was there (only Roman Josi was missing), and Rinne played the first half of the game. And, one could argue that both of Saad's goals would have scored on most goalies in the league.To wit, our friends from On The Forecheck:
It's the first time this preseason that Nashville was really kept in check throughout its penalty-filled evening. On the flip side, Columbus seemingly converted on every chance they earned. A stark contrast from the way the Predators have been playing for the majority of preseason.
These performances should count for *something*.
There are some alarm bells, though. The Jackets took entirely too many penalties last night, with seven minors (and two fighting majors). They were outshot 20-16 through two periods, and then BADLY outshot in the third period (17-3), though some of that can be attributed to score effects, as the Jackets had just one shot in the final 13:39 of the game after they pulled ahead 5-1. They also scored on two of their three shots, and scored five goals on 19 shots overall. That may not be sustainable, however, against full NHL lineups at full NHL speed. We shall see.
That said, the top three lines all look like they can get things done on the offensive end, and that may help mask some things as they start out. And, that top line... man. They can do some things. They may have to.