The topsy-turvy world of Blue Jackets Hockey continued on Saturday night, with the club traveling to snowy Boston for their first meeting of the season with the Bruins. Missing were injured Sergei Bobrovsky (groin) and head coach John Tortorella (ribs). New additions included the returns of Nick Foligno and Matt Calvert, as well as the Blue Jackets' Dads, tagging along on this pre-All Star Break Original Six stint. So, whose wrath do the players fear the most -- Torts or their own fathers? Let's find out.
Period One -- Solid Stand-Off
Boston came out of the blocks on fire, and the Blue Jackets had a hard time catching up over the course of the first few minutes of play. Boston pressed its possession game, pressured the neutral zone and played as a five man unit. Still, the buzzing resulted in only a couple of chances, which the defense and Joonas Korpisalo easily defused.
After about a five minute warm-up period, the Blue Jackets began to get the north-south game going, creating some credible opportunities, most notably from Boone Jenner and Seth Jones. Jonas Gustavsson made a few handy saves, and Korpilsalo returned the favor at the other end, most notably denying a prime opportunity after a turnover halfway through the period.
While some recent Blue Jackets games have started like remedial chess matches, this one assumed the flavor of an advanced contest for the better part of the period. It wasn't "run and gun" necessarily, but there was a repeated back-and-forth flow once the choppiness of the early going disappeared. Only one penalty interrupted things -- a tripping call at 15:40 that sent Jack Johnson to the box. The penalty kill unit -- apparently aware that they were facing the 2nd best power play unit in the NHL -- showed nice discipline and execution in dispatching that one without harm.
Shots were 13 - 11 in the Blue Jackets' favor for the frame, which was actually a pretty good indicator of the balance and pace that dominated the period. The Rychel -- Karlsson -- Foligno line was the most intriguing. Foligno's ability to control the puck in the offensive zone was sorely missed. Alexander Wennberg and the Seth Jone/Ryan Murray pair also impressed. The net result was a scoreless tie, which is not a bad way to start a road game.
Period Two -- Crazy Stalemate
Spoiler alert: The second period ended in a tie as well, but bore absolutely no resemblance to the first period.
The tone of this one took precisely 32 seconds to establish. Ryan Murray directed a neutral zone pass toward Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky, who were hip-to-hip as they prepared to enter the offensive zone. Neither could apparently decide who should take the puck, which then drifted to Patrice Bergeron, who started the transition play. Bergeron found Spooner on the left wing, while Ryan Murray was all over Brad Marchand driving to the back side post. That did not deter Spooner from making the pass, and somehow Marchand found a way to get the backhand side of his blade on the puck, nudging it past Korpisalo before he could shut down that angle. 1 - 0 Bruins.
To their credit, the Blue Jackets did not go into a cave, but kept pressing on the next possession, which resulted in a hooking call against David Pastrnak just 17 seconds after the goal. Unfortunately, the ensuing power play was disjointed, reverting to over-use of the blind neutral zone drop pass, which fools nobody at this point in time.
The Bruins struck again shortly thereafter. This one actually began with a credible threat in the offensive zone, which Boston turned into an offensive opportunity through a couple of nice plays by Torey Krug and Loui Ericsson, which got the puck to center ice, and enabled David Krejci to put a shot on goal. Matt Calvert was late getting back into the defensive zone, and when Korpisalo surrendered a juicy rebound, Pastrnak was there to park the rebound. 2 - 0 for the home team, and you sensed that the game had reached the tipping point where either the Blue Jackets were going to make a game of it, or the rout was on.
Fortunately, the former was the case, with the premier tally coming from the unlikeliest of sources. After William Karlsson and Kerby Rychel combined to gain possession after an offensive zone face-off in the right circle, the puck worked its way to Dalton Prout, who skated it to the goal line. With no better idea at the time, he fired the puck on net, where Gustavsson appeared to have the post covered. Appearances can be deceiving, however, as the puck found its way beneath the pad, and curled into the net around the near post. What does this demonstrate, boys and girls? Put.The.Puck.On.Net. Very good. Prout had his first goal of the season, with Rychel and Karlsson getting the helpers. A much needed shot in the arm.
The equalizer would come just three minutes later. The Foligno-Karlsson-Rychel line put some enormous pressure down low, creating havoc in front of Gustavsson. The puck worked its way out to Justin Falk, who wasted no time in sending it toward the net. As it zipped its way through the mass of bodies, Kerby Rychel managed to deflect the puck just enough to put it out of Gustavsson's reach. This one was originally credited to Rychel, then to Foligno, whose stick was also in play after Rychel's tip. After further review, the NHL correctly determined that the puck missed Foligno's stick, and restored the goal to Rychel, with Falk gaining the only assist. Whoever earned the tally, it was the result of a great shift in the offensive zone, an example of the tenacity that had seemed to be lacking of late.
The back half of the period was a choppy affair, marred by two Blue Jackets penalties (Hartnell for goaltender interference at 13:56, and Murray for hooking at 18:06) and a single Boston infraction (Ericsson for holding at 15:25) The respective goaltenders and PK units stifled these threats, and the deadlock remained after two periods, although the path in the second was radically different from that in the first. Shots were 10 - 9 in favor of Columbus for the period.
Period Three -- Jockeying For Position
The final frame had the promise of being a wild affair, but turned out to be fairly tame. The Blue Jackets surrendered another power play when Gregory Campbell was whistled for holding early in the period, but again killed the penalty with precision. A later Columbus power play went for naught, and in between the clubs exchanged relatively few chances. Some offensive pressure by the Blue Jackets created a couple of potentially lucrative scrums in front of Gustavsson, but Columbus simply could not get a solid stick on the puck either time. At the other end, Korpisalo made a great save on a prime chance from Dennis Seidenberg, but otherwise was relatively idle. Shots were 8 - 6 for the period in Boston's favor, reflecting the somewhat calculated nature of the period.
A ray of hope emerged at the end of the period, due to the hustle of Alexander Wennberg & Co. , who refused to simply allow the period to expire. He skated hard into the zone, posed a credible threat, and drew a slashing call on Seidenberg with just five seconds remaining. That one would carry into OT.
OT & Beyond
The 3-man OT is designed to create excitement, and reduce reliance on the shootout, and it manages to do so, even when the teams don't actually play at 3-on-3. The Blue Jackets had a 4-on-3 advantage for a full 1:55 of the extra frame, but could not convert. They had several prime chances, but Gustavsson made some nice saves, and they just could not get sticks on some tantalizingly loose pucks. As the penalty expired, the clubs were at 4-on-4 until the next whistle, when Brandon Saad became embroiled in a confrontation with Zdeno Chara, which in turn resulted in Columbus being whistled for too many men on the ice. Sound familiar? In a delicious bit of irony, Scott Hartnell was designated to serve the penalty, and I guarantee that he spent the full two minutes wondering whether Saad would spend the next game in the Press Box.
The PK unit was at its finest during the ensuing power play, providing that delicate balance between maintaining the triangle, challenging the puck when not cleanly handled, and jumping on the puck when opportunities presented themselves. Korpisalo was quick and aware, and the penalty passed without incident, much to the dismay of the home crowd. The actual 43 seconds of three-on-three that followed were unremarkable. Shots for the OT were 6 - 4 in the Bruins' favor.
The shootout was an anti-climax. Korpisalo got a piece of Ryan Spooner's opening effort, but it deflected into the net. Atkinson's backhand-forehand move was stymied by Gustavsson, and Korpisalo denied Bergeron. After Brandon Dubinsky could not find the back of the net, Torey Krug zipped a high wrister past Korpisalo earning the two points.
Summing It Up
Full marks for a great comeback, and the overall quality of play and effort was a solid one against a desperate team. Specific observations:
- Alexander Wennberg is becoming a beast in his own right. He dominated the face-off circle, made smart play after smart play, and needs only to turn on his offensive game to be a true #1 center.
- Nice work by Nick Foligno -- Kerby Rychel -- William Karlsson. They were dangerous all night, put consistent pressure on the Bruins, and were a prime annoyance to Gustavsson. Kerby Rychel can play hockey, and deserves major minutes. Make it so.
- Jones and Murray were impressive again, and Jack Johnson is playing with lots of jump in his step. Not a fan of the Goloubef scratch.
- Primary sins included repeated sloppiness with the puck in the neutral zone and near the blue lines, which Boston converted to both goals. Korpisalo bailed them out of other similar situations. There were also continued instances of guys not skating all the way to the puck or back on defense, gliding to their target instead of skating. That also contributed to at least one of the goals.