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Game Recap #44: Marooned on the Island

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The Blue Jackets made their debut at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and came away with a confusing 5 - 2 loss to the Islanders.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jackets visited the Islanders' new home for the first time on Tuesday night, looking to build off of a strong comeback effort against the Carolina  Hurricanes on Saturday night, which fell just short in the OT period.  Anton Forsberg opened in net for the Blue Jackets, who hoped to pounce on an Islanders club that has had trouble scoring goals of late.  It just didn't work out that way.

Period One:  Failure to Launch

Knowing that the home team was going to come out charging, the Blue Jackets came out with feet of cement, reaching instead of skating, losing every race to every puck.  The tone was set early when Brandon Dubinsky took a slashing penalty just 2:11 into the contest, the first of eight power plays the club would surrender on this night.  (Dubinsky had some harsh words after the game, which will be addressed below.)  The Blue Jackets killed the penalty, but being forced to the PK did not do anything to get them into any sort of tempo or rhythm.

The home team scored first, at the 5:03 mark, when Matt Martin let loose with a seemingly harmless shot from the blue line that fluttered toward Forsberg.  Forsberg got a piece of it, but it snuck behind him, where Ryan Strome tucked the puck in the net.  Casey Cizikas earned the second assist on the play. This was another case where even the most harmless of mistakes comes back to haunt the Blue Jackets.  Alexander Wennberg had made a clearing attempt that was intercepted by Cizikas, which resulted in a softball from Martin, misplayed by Forsberg, converted by Strome.

Just over a minute later, with the Blue Jackets still looking for their first shot on goal, Fedor Tyutin tried to lift John Tavares' stick to deny possession.  Good idea, but he missed the stick and caught Tavares' nose.  That was a four minute double minor to Tyutin, and things seemed to be getting out of hand early.  However, enter the hustle of William Karlsson, who battled for a loose puck thirty seconds into the power play, forcing Brock Nelson to take a holding the stick penalty.  That gave the squads two minutes at 4-on-4, and enabled the Blue Jackets to gain some familiarity with the offensive zone, even if they could not register a shot on the net.  Still, they created some chances, and managed to kill off the remainder of the double minor with no damage.

Ironically, that adversity turned almost immediately to advantage, as Jack Johnson took possession of the puck in his own zone, and skated the puck hard up the left side of the ice, with William Karlsson moving hard to his right, filling the middle.  Johnson looked at Karlsson, who was reasonably well accounted for by the defense, and fired a hard wrister right on Thomas Greiss.  Greiss made the save, but surrendered a rebound to his left, where Karlsson had kept skating.  Wild Bill did not miss the opportunity, and the Blue Jackets had the equalizer just seven seconds after the penalty kill ended.  Go figure.

Of course, the situation would not last.  At the 12:00 minute mark, Brock Nelson took the puck down the right wing, and entered the zone without benefit of teammates, guarded (in a fashion) by Gregory Campbell, with Jack Johnson and David Savard protecting the middle.  Nelson let loose with a wicked shot that Forsberg seemed not to expect.  It beat him squarely to the stick side, and the Islanders had the lead once again.  Thomas Hickey and Josh Bailey earned the assists.

Given that the Blue Jackets were outshot 17 - 5 for the period, trailing by only a 2 - 1 margin was a form of accomplishment.  However, there would need to be significant attitude adjustment in the room between periods if this one was going to be competitive going forward.  Some passengers were going to need to be pulled into the driver's seat, and fast.

Period Two: Improved Effort But Similar Results

The Blue Jackets came out of the locker room with a distinct edge in the second period, likely courtesy of the acetylene torch administered to their collective hindquarters in the privacy of the first intermission locker room. In any event, they skated hard and worked hard to maintain possession in the offensive zone.  Particularly strong in this regard were Karlsson, Kerby Rychel and Josh Anderson, who all skated like hellions all night long.  Anderson and Rychel only earned about ten minutes of ice time, but should be considered for more as time goes on.

That skating had the desired effect, as it forced the Islanders to start making mistakes. Brian Strait took a penalty just 2:24 in, and though the Blue Jackets did not convert, they maintained possession in the zone for the majority of the power play and had some opportunities.  Officially zero-for-six on the power play for the evening against the #2 ranked penalty killing unit in the league, the Blue Jackets' power play was not as inept as the numbers would suggest, and a few of those power plays were abbreviated by their own penalty time.

Scott Hartnell was whistled for a very questionable "just because you're Scott Hartnell" roughing penalties midway through the period, which was ameliorated by Nick Leddy drawing a holding penalty against the pesky Karlsson just 53 seconds later.  No harm in any of the extra man situations.

Just after completion of another power play, Rychel and Anderson put on a possession clinic in the offensive zone, preventing the Islanders from getting a complete change of personnel, and frustrating all clearing attempts.  As they surrendered the ice on a change in the offensive zone, David Savard skated onto the ice with partner Jack Johnson, Rene Bourque and Gregory Campbell.  As he crossed the blue line, the puck was cleared up in his direction.  He simply took a swipe at it, and it beat Greiss to the stick side.  No assists on the play, and Savard finally had his first goal of the season, 44 games in.  That was the equalizer, and restored hope on the bench.

You know what's coming, right?   Savard giveth, and Savard taketh away.  Brock Nelson took possession of the puck in the neutral zone on the left, where he encountered Savard.  Rather than skate or check, Savard made an "Ole!"play -- consisting of a flat-footed swipe with his stick, which missed both Nelson and the puck.  Jack Johnson was fully engaged with Josh Bailey to the right, rightfully assuming that Savard had Nelson. Except that he didn't.  Nelson simply walked in and fired the puck through Forsberg, who left his five hole exposed.  Anders Lee had the helper here, and the Islanders regained the lead.

Other than a Nikolay Kulemin cross-checking penalty at the 19:20 mark, the remainder of the period passed without incident.  The Blue Jackets out-shot the Islanders 9 - 7 for the period, played a much better period, but again fell victim to the small mistakes of execution that left the overall game in the same posture it was after the first. What would the third hold?

Period Three:  Relapse

The Islanders killed off the remainder of the Kulemin penalty to start the final frame, failed to convert on the ensuing power play after Jared Boll was whistled for a check to the head (of the opponent, not himself), and then atoned for that mistake by converting a point shot from Brian Strait at the 5:34 mark of the period.  The puck may have been tipped by a defender's stick, or Forsberg may have been partially screened by Tyutin, but the puck went in from the top of the zone and off the post.  It was Strait's first goal of the season, with Tavares and Brock Nelson garnering the helpers.

That was the shot that sent the Blue Jackets back into their collective shells.  Columbus managed only six shots for the third period (compared to nine for the Islanders), and managed only a few serious flurries as the game wound down, some penalty situations arose, and the Blue Jackets had the empty net.  Fittingly, Brock Nelson beat out David Savard for the loose puck  with 11 seconds remaining in the game, shoveling it unassisted into the empty net for his first career hat trick ( and fourth point of the night), accounting for the final margin.

Post Mortem

Lots of tidbits to share on this one.

  • In the locker room, Brandon Dubinsky went off to the press about the team and the quality of effort.  While we all get that Dubinsky is one of the team leaders, I couldn't help think that it sounded a bit hollow and rehearsed.  I'd like to see Dubinsky show more of the consistent intensity on the ice that he used to display consistently, and now only pulls out periodically.  It's not that he was wrong about some of the ills, it's just that actions more than words are needed right now, and the public airing of grievances seemed to be more a play to the fans than anything else, particularly in light of the recent publicity over leadership issues.
  • While John Tortorella was kind enough to remark that Anton Forsberg made some nice saves during the evening, the fact remains that Forsberg was bad most of the night.  He may have been shell-shocked after that 17 shot first period, but the fact remains that he was ill-prepared for shots coming his way, and three of the five goals were clearly save worthy.  However, nobody claimed that Forsberg was NHL ready yet, and injuries have simply put the Blue Jackets in an awful situation.
  • Full marks on this night go to Jack Johnson, William Karlsson, Kerby Rychel and Josh Anderson.  They were fully engaged from the first minute, and combined to create possessions and opportunities.  Johnson may well be benefiting from the ice time being drawn by Ryan Murray and Seth Jones, who spent approximately 24 minutes each on the ice.  Johnson had 22 minutes of TOI, which for him is almost like a period off.  He was fast, aggressive and responsible.
  • Cam Atkinson drew the most TOI among forwards, with 21:46 of ice time, more than two minutes more than Dubinsky.  While Cam was a consistent threat on the PK, which explained a lot of his time, he tended to disappear at even strength.  Neither he or Dubinsky are finding their way to the tough areas of the ice on a consistent basis, which is where they are typically most successful.  Cam has reverted again to looking for the home run play.  As a result, he is cheating a bit in the defensive zone, and gets caught.
  • Fedor Tyutin simply does not appear to have the foot speed necessary to keep up for a full game any longer.  Still technically sound, his inability to keep up with the pace reduces his effectiveness.  Hence, he had only 15:42 TOI on this night.  Justin Falk is game, but is also limited in speed and agility.  He saw only 13 + minutes on the ice this evening.  Cody Goloubef really needs to find his way back onto the blue line.
  • David Savard's play was highly indifferent.  He literally walked into a clearing pass from the opposition for his first goal of the year, but then was instrumental in surrendering two to the opposition.  He simply looks disengaged on the ice, with none of the determination or precision he showed last year.
  • Jared Boll had less than seven minutes of ice time, with Rene Bourque and Gregory Campbell having only slightly more.  Count these as $6 million of salary cap reductions next year.
The Blue Jackets are simply trapped in a Groundhog Day of the same mistakes -- penalties, mental errors, lack of skating -- which are combining with some youthful indiscretions to ensure that even the most minor mistake comes back to haunt them.  It's not a lack of desire, and some really solid efforts of many are being submarined by the horrific efforts of the few.  If nothing else, the final 38 games need to separate the wheat from the chaff in a definitive way.  The next chance comes tomorrow night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Stay tuned.