The Blue Jackets visited the Shark Tank on Thursday evening, wrapping up the season series vs. San Jose before Trick or Treat. The trick was provided by the NHL schedule makers, who had the Blue Jackets flying from Los Angeles to San Jose for this one, then slated to return immediately to Orange County for a Friday contest with the Ducks. That's why it's good to get the California Swing out of the way early.
After coming out flat against the Kings, the Blue Jackets stepped up the pace early in this one. Just a minute in, David Savard took the puck into the offensive zone with speed at the right point, made a nifty move to gain some room in the center of the ice, and forced a hooking penalty against Paul Martin. The ensuing power play generated four shots on goal, and a couple of seemingly prime opportunities, but the Blue Jackets could not find the back of the net.
Even strength play ensued for the next ten minutes, which featured some entertaining back and forth action. The collapsing defense of the Blue Jackets created a lot of room for the San Jose point shot game — which is a scary feature of their arsenal — but were able to keep the Sharks on the perimeter, and clear any pucks in harm's way. The defense was able to clear the puck with pace — most of the time.
At 11:20 of the period, the Sharks received their first power play, when Marcus Nutivaara was whistled for the stingiest holding call in recent memory. Let's just say this . . . if that is holding, then there will never be full strength hockey in the NHL again. The Blue Jackets PK started off well, getting a couple of clears, and disrupting the flow of the San Jose attack. With just under 30 seconds left in the penalty, Sergei Bobrovsky snared the puck behind the net, and teed it up for Dalton Prout — and what seemed to be the inevitable clear. However, Prout inexplicably chose to ignore the clear ice directly in front of him, instead attempting to rim the puck around the boards to the right. David Schlemko had other ideas, stopping the puck and whipping it across ice to Joonas Donskoi. As the Blue Jackets were caught halfway out of the zone, Donskoi had nothing but time to creep in on Bob, who managed to deflect the puck with his glove, but could not stop it. 1 - 0 Sharks, with Schlemko earning the only assist. San Jose is now the proud owner of the only two power play goals Columbus has surrendered this season.
At 15:50, the Blue Jackets earned another power play, when Tomas Hertl was called for tripping Sam Gagner. Columbus managed two shots with the extra man, but could not convert. The period ended 1 - 0, with the Blue Jackets leading the shot battle 13 - 10.
In the second, San Jose exerted its game, and the Blue Jackets strayed from the recipe that had been bringing them success. The defensive zone presence was spottier, the legs were not moving, and the short, crisp exit passes were by-passed in favor of longer attempts. Most of those never found their way out of the zone.
The early period featured a breakaway by Joel Ward (denied by Bobrovsky), a missed defensive assignment, resulting in a point blank shot (rang off the post), and another point blank shot by Brent Burns (miraculously stopped by Bob). At the other end, the few opportunities that came the Blue Jackets' way were largely squandered, including a Scott Hartnell miss of a wide open net after a great feed from Sam Gagner.
And so it continued . . . until the 17:18 mark of the period. That's when the lights went out. Seriously. The Shark Tank went dark as the power in the building failed. Since restoration of power takes a good ten minutes under the best of conditions, the officials sent the teams to the locker rooms early. It was a timely break for the Blue Jackets, who should have trailed more substantially, but for Bobrovsky.
Columbus came back out with more energy, and appeared ready to take the advantage. A high sticking penalty gave Columbus another power play spanning the end of the second and beginning of the third, but again came up empty. Still, the pace was better, and the possession was more equal. Six minutes into the period, San Jose appeared to score on a high deflection of a point shot. However, Columbus brought out the coach challenge, claiming that the play was offsides before the goal. The ensuing review lasted over seven minutes, but ultimately determined that one Shark player had a skate in the zone, and the other in the air, ahead of the puck. It was the narrowest of determinations, but seemed to energize the club.
Unfortunately, the energy alone wasn't enough to make a difference on the scoresheet. Rebounds were missed, scrambles in the crease went for naught, and they could not seem to get players in the right place at the right time. At 10:39 of the period, Jack Johnson was whistled for another dubious penalty, this one for tripping. San Jose converted the opportunity when a point shot from Schlemko deflected off of Edouard Vlasic, then onto Hertl's stick. Hertl was able to bat it out of the air and into the net, for a 2 - 0 lead.
As the clock ticked down and hope was quickly fading, the Blue Jackets put on a bit of a rush. Brandon Saad took the puck into the zone on the right, and laced a pass toward Lukas Sedlak in the middle. Sedlak redirected the puck on goal, and Martin Jones made the stop. He could not handle the rebound, however, and a hard charging Scott Hartnell was there to slam the puck home for his first of the season. The assist was Sedlak's first NHL point, and with just 2:50 remaining in the game, Columbus had a pulse. After Bobrovsky was pulled, they made an strong effort to get the tying marker, but ultimately surrendered the empty netter with just 0.8 seconds left in the game.
This was one where the Blue Jackets did not play badly, in the absolute, but could not make plays when they were needed. Dalton Prout struggled with the puck all night long, missing clearing chances that prolonged San Jose possessions, and led directly to one goal. Boone Jenner was better, putting four shots on goal, but still fell short of being that offensive presence that was so characteristic of his play last year. The Werenski/Jones pairing continued its solid play, with Werenski also putting four shots on goal. But Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Calvert registered no shots on goal, and Wennberg, Karlsson, Anderson, Sedlak and Gagner managed only one each. Perhaps it's time to add the skill of Sonny Milano to the equation, to provide some spark to the five-on-five offense.
Columbus generated 56 shot attempts, with 21 of those being blocked. That's a little short of Tortorella's target of 65, but still fairly credible. The trick is to get more of them through to the net. The Blue Jackets did win 51% of the face-offs, reversing what had been an abysmal trend in the circle. Dubinsky won 57% of his draws, while Wennberg prevailed in 60% of his. That's a good omen.
Full marks to San Jose in this one. They are the defending Western Conference champs for a reason, and they came hard all night long. But for a couple of questionable penalty calls, and a few bizarre bounces, this one could have gone a different way. They get to shake it off and try it again tomorrow in the shadow of Disneyland, when they face the Anaheim Ducks. Stay tuned.