Many in the hockey world were already looking forward to a potential win streak matchup on Saturday between expansion brothers Columbus and Minnesota. Neither team was looking ahead, however, with tough battles to fight tonight. Minnesota won a back-and-forth game with the Islanders, 6-4. How did Columbus do?
Coach Tortorella had the team practice checking in practice on Wednesday. It’s a good thing, too as this game was as physical as expected.
Zach Werenski drew a penalty just 24 seconds into the game. The Jackets killed the penalty, but Winnipeg controlled the pace of play for the first 5 minutes of the game. Shortly after the penalty kill, Adam Lowry won an offensive zone faceoff, from which Jacob Trouba fired a long shot and Shawn Matthias tipped it in for the opening goal. The Jets led in shots on goal 6-0 at this point.
After that, the Blue Jackets settled down a bit, with productive shifts - and shots - from all four lines.
In the twelfth minute, goalie Michael Hutchinson made the ill-fated decision to play a dumped puck behind the net. His pass was picked off by Brandon Saad, who quickly turned around and fired a tight angle shot on the net. It was blocked, but Saad fielded his own rebound and buried the shot to tie the game.
Now the shot margin was a more respectable 8-4.
Late in the first, the Jackets’ league-leading power play struck. Sam Gagner won the opening faceoff of the PP, which was recovered by Werenski. The rookie skated to the middle of the ice and fired a long shot towards the goal. It deflected off of Cap’n Nick Foligno for the go-ahead goal.
Winnipeg responded with a flurry of shots in the first part of the second period, but fortunately Sergei Bobrovksy stood tall - as he’s done so many times in this win streak.
About halfway through the period, Markus Nutivaara received the puck at the top of the offensive zone and fired it at the goal. Foligno was sandwiched between the goalie and defender but managed to knock the puck loose towards Alexander Wennberg. You’ll never guess what happened next: WENNBERG SHOT THE PUCK! Winnipeg challenged the goal, but the review determined that Foligno was pushed and therefore there was no goalie interference.
There had been many hits exchanged on both sides and in the second it started to take its toll. Former Jacket Marko Dano went down awkwardly and in a lot of pain and did not return. Not long after Mathieu Perreault limped to the bench after blocking a shot. He would return. I thought at this point that Columbus could capitalize on Winnipeg being down 2 skaters, due to our depth and third period stamina, but this did not really happen. Credit to Winnipeg for weathering that adversity.
The chippiness late in the second resulted in a couple 4-on-4s after matching penalties. The second period ending with Dustin Byfuglien getting called for roughing after a hard hit on Wennberg. Columbus would start the third period with a 4-on-3 power play.
In that power play, Wennberg received the puck low in the offensive zone, then skated directly towards the goal. As he passed in front of Hutchinson, he poked a shot through at point blank range. Yes, WENNBERG SHOT AGAIN! AND SCORED AGAIN! This was the first multi-goal game of the young Swede’s career. Hopefully there are many more to come. I, for one, welcome our Wennberg-scoring-goals overlords.
6 minutes later, Winnipeg was on the power play but Columbus had a short-handed attempt. Unfortunately William Karlsson made a sloppy pass to an out-of-position Matt Calvert, and Winnipeg took advantage. Wheeler sped down the ice then passed to Stafford, who made a nice pass across ice to a wide open Bryan Little. This narrowed the lead to the MOST DANGEROUS LEAD IN HOCKEY.
With just over 5 minutes left, the Jackets got some breathing room thanks to one of the oldest and one of the youngest players. Jack Johnson fired a shot from the blue line (lots of goals tonight started with those kinds of deep shots) and rookie Lukas Sedlak tipped it in. Johnson became the second Columbus defenseman to collect 100 assists (the first was Fedor Tyutin).
Late in the third, Johnson went to the box on a fairly questionable interference call - especially considering how many hits went uncalled all night. Winnipeg pulled the goalie and Perreault - fighting through that earlier injury - scored.
Columbus survived another minute and a half of 6-on-5 and finished with the win at 5-3.
The Blue Jackets are once again in first place in the NHL. Their 14 wins in a row extends a franchise record. On Saturday night, they will face the Minnesota Wild in a game which is the first matchup in NHL history between two teams with win streaks longer than 7 games.
May the best team win, and may I successfully watch that game AND the Ohio State football game at the same time.