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Game Recap: 500 was worth the wait

Columbus makes a statement win in a milestone game

NHL: Dallas Stars at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight was the 1220th game in Columbus Blue Jackets history. It took 16 long years but tonight they finally earned the 500th victory as a franchise. It wasn’t a walk in the park, however...

The opponent tonight was Arizona, who was very familiar: these teams played each other just two days ago. That game featured many penalties and even more shots, so more fireworks were expected tonight. Different goalies, however, with Louis Domingue subbing in for Mike Smith, and Sergei Bobrovsky back in place of Curtis McElhinney.

The start of the game didn’t feature the usual “team on fire” attack like we’ve gotten used to from the Blue Jackets. I thought they were a bit tentative to start.

Eight minutes in, Brandon Dubinsky got called for the game’s first penalty, on a borderline hooking penalty. Tobias Rieder looked like he held on to Dubi’s stick. On that power play, Rieder would convert on a nice set-up pass by Alex Goligoski.

Before the game, our own Eric Seeds had this to say in the preview thread:

Put another way: good teams don’t gack this game up at home.

If we want to be good, these are the types of games we win.

From this point going forward, Columbus played like a good team that was not going to gack this one up. Two minutes after surrendering that goal, Columbus got a power play opportunity and converted. It was the kind of hard-earned goal we love to see, with a scrum of Jackets in front of the goal. Sam Gagner got credited with the tip-in goal.

On to the second period, which has been an Achilles Heel of late. Is it because the Jackets are worn out from an aggressive first period? Is it because the opponents make adjustments? Either way it’s generally been a flat and underwhelming period. Not tonight.

As this chart shows, Columbus kept constant pressure all the game. Arizona was never able to get any momentum back.

hockeyviz.com

On another power play, that first unit struck again. Gagner fed Cam Atkinson from the point, and Atkinson passed across the crease to a wide open Nick Foligno. The Captain became the first Jacket this year to score double digit goals. His 10th was also his 5th PP goal this season.

In the third period, Gagner struck again. Brandon Saad collected a rebound and fed Gagner for a wide-open one-timer. Arizona challenged that there was goalie interference but the call stood. That goal allowed Gagner to tie Foligno at 10 goals apiece. The last couple seasons we’ve seen scoring races between Columbus players, where it seems like they feed off each other and try to keep pace. Let’s hope Fligs and Sam keep pushing each other. How many players can hit 20 goals?

And let’s talk some more about Sam Gagner. He was signed on a one year deal, making just $650,000. He has bounced around the league and was even demoted to the AHL last year. Columbus just needed a veteran forward as a placeholder. Now, Gagner has been a fourth line player in 5v5, but has also been a key part of that first power play unit, which has been the best in the league so far. Look at what Gagner was able to do tonight in limited ice time:

hockeyviz.com

20 shots while he was on the ice, for just 15 shifts, and only 7 shots allowed. He scored 2 goals and assisted on the other 2.

Oh yeah, the last goal game from rookie superstar Zach Werenski. Ho hum. Just a rocket taken at a tight angle from the red line that somehow bounced in. No biggie.

Columbus tonight did what they’ve been doing for the past couple weeks: they - a good team - went and controlled the pace and put up a bunch of shots against a weaker team and ultimately prevailed. Look at the progress just within this season:

hockeyviz.com

Does anyone want a piece of us right now? I would think not. Will it last? Well, we’ll see. It’s a long season and players are bound to get gassed. Injuries are going to happen. Smart coaches will figure out how to adjust to our style of play. But until then let’s just enjoy how fun this team is to watch, and how fun it is to root for a team that wins.

It’s December 6, Columbus is 15-5-4 with 34 points. That’s good for 5th in the NHL. Just 2 points back of first place Montreal, with a game in hand. Happy holidays.

Charts courtesy of Micah Blake McCurdy at hockeyviz.com. It’s a great resource for hockey graphs, and if you support his Patreon page you can get access to game charts like these immediately after each game.