With Calgary coming into town, Jackets fans were salivating at the opportunity to extend the home game points streak, and likely add another two points to their growing total. It was not to be, however, as the Flames managed to do just enough to pull out the shootout victory. However, this was not as much about the Flames' prowess as it was about squandered opportunities for Columbus. Let's examine.
The sole roster change for Columbus was the insertion of Markus Hannikainen in place of Matt Calvert, who has made more than his fair share of physical sacrifice over recent games. It was not a good trade-off, as the uneven play of the fourth line forced John Tortorella to minimize their ice time. Hannikainen earned only 9:47 of ice time, and Lukas Sedlak, who looked awful, was on the ice for only 7:47.
Nonetheless, the Blue Jackets came out in the first and showed that they can control the game, despite being horribly out-gunned in the face-off circle 12 - 5. They posted 10 shots on goal in the first, while surrendering only four to the Flames. However, the bulk of those shots came from the outside, and any closer opportunities seemed to be planted directly in Chad Johnson's chest. Still, as a scoreless first wound down, you had the feeling that it was just going to be a matter of time before the Blue Jackets broke through.
The second period epitomized the entire game for Columbus. They outshot Calgary 15 - 7, went 13 - 5 in the face-off circle, and exited the period trailing 1 - 0. Two factors played into this phenomenon. Again, the shots directed at the Calgary goal came largely from outside, with little net-front presence, and those that came from closer in were in Johnson's breadbasket. A classic example came nine minutes into the frame, when two Flames collided spectacularly at center ice, freeing Cam Atkinson for a breakaway. Atkinson made his patented moves, ignored a gaping five-hole, and went high glove . . . right into Johnson's glove. The second factor was the large number of turnovers. Officially, Columbus was credited with seven giveaways (to one for Calgary), but I suspect the guy counting took a period off. Clearing passes frequently didn't clear, and/or went straight to the opposition. In the offensive zone, bad decisions became the rule, as the club either over-passed, or tried to single-handedly beat the defense. So, while Corsi favored the Blue Jackets, the effectiveness of possession did not.
Calgary's first goal featured all of these shortcomings. Seth Jones attempted to clear the puck down the middle from his right circle. Instead, the puck found Troy Brouwer just outside the blue line. Brouwer dropped the puck to Kris Versteeg, who then danced around Jones with a nice forehand-backhand move. Meanwhile, Zach Werenski was a step slow in tracking Brouwer, who just continued toward the net, gaining puck-side body position. Versteeg put a beautiful pass on Brouwer's stick, who had a simple tap-in. It was almost a carbon copy of the play that beat Werenski in overtime in the last game.
The third period has been the Blue Jackets' bread and butter this season, but this time the Flames were ready. They continued to clog the middle, and forced a shooting stand-off at 9 - 9. Their lone goal came on the power play, again in predictable fashion. Hannikainen had the puck on his stick, and was skating it out of the zone, when it was poke-checked away. A quick cross-ice pass found Michael Ferland, who zipped a wrister off the post and past a partially screened Bobrovsky.
The Blue Jackets pulled Bobrovsky with over two minutes left, but there would be no last second salvation on this evening. Again, some good chances were generated, but Columbus just could not convert.
It's a shame to lose a game they really should have won, particularly in the midst of a five-game-in-seven-days stretch, but there are lessons to be learned here. It served as a reminder that the young defense, while immensely talented, is still young. It should also remind them that no matter how well they have been playing, it doesn't matter if they do not execute. This was a failure of execution, pure and simple, from a disorganized power play to the "pull the pin and pray"passes from the defensive zone. The difference today is that this is the exception, not the norm, and we should see a vastly different effort against Tampa on Friday. 10 - 5 - 3 through 18 games is a good place to be, and they are 1-1-1 on the current stretch, despite some uneven play. The key now is to make sure that the uneven play does not become the norm. I have a sneaking suspicion that John Tortorella will not let that happen. Stay tuned.