While the unofficial theme of the evening was the impending Valentines Day, the Blue Jackets sent no hearts or flowers to the Ottawa Senators' locker room. Instead, they administered a clinically effective 4- 2 defeat to the visiting Senators, before an appreciative home crowd of 16,164.
Period One: Assuming the High Ground
David Savard returned to the line-up for the Blue Jackets this game, and was paired with Jack Johnson. Fedor Tyutin and Dalton Prout filled out the Columbus defensive pairings, the latter likely due to the fact that Dion Phaneuf made his Nationwide debut in a Sens' sweater.
This one was a choppy affair for much of the early going, due to repeated offside and icing whistles, pucks into the net, and similar whistle-inducing incidents. Still, the overall tone was set early, as the Blue Jackets quickly tilted the ice in their favor . Still, after an early chance by Nick Foligno was denied by Craig Anderson, Columbus would not register its second shot on goal until the 6:08 mark, courtesy of Rene Bourque. Blocked shots were the order of the day for both squads, and the Blue Jackets leveraged a 67% advantage in the face-off circle during the opening frame to maintain possession and exert pressure.
At the 12:39 mark, Kerby Rychel was whistled for a somewhat suspect hooking infraction, and Ottawa had a chance to assume the upper hand. It was not to be, as the penalty-killing unit for Columbus put on a clinic, creating the only offensive chances of the extra man situation for themselves. For all of the good work, however, as the period wound down, it appeared that this one was going to be another frame where the Blue Jackets were unrewarded for their efforts. Not so.
With under two minutes left in the period, the Blue Jackets assumed possession yet again in the offensive zone, with the puck worked down to Cam Atkinson below the goal line behind Anderson. Brandon Dubinsky was stationed squarely on the edge of the crease, causing the intended degree of havoc. Atkinson dealt the puck to Seth Jones, who had crept in to the circle at Anderson's left. Jones waisted no time in putting a hard shot on net. Anderson got most of it, but not all of it, and it trickled behind him toward both the goal line and the right post. For a moment, it appeared that this might be one of those tantalizing chances that went awry, as both Mika Zibanejad and Marc Methot were moving to clear the offending puck from the danger zone. Boone Jenner, however, had other ideas, crashing the party in front of the net, getting his blade on the puck and shoving it across the line. 1 - 0 for the home team with just 1:31left in the period. Seth Jones earned his 19th assist on the play, with Cam Atkinson getting the other helper.
This was the perfect opening period for the Blue Jackets in many ways. They dominated possession and shots (14 - 6), they were sound defensively, and Joonas Korpisalo was up to the task in the rare instance that the defense broke down. Nick Foligno had three shots on goal, and Boone Jenner was all over the ice. They made the Senators appear almost disinterested, and that's precisely what you want to happen in your home barn.
Period Two: Extending the Advantage
The second period saw none of the choppiness of the early phases of the opening stanza. The two clubs combined for 32 shots in the period, with Columbus holding the narrow 17 - 15 edge. Power plays were not the culprit, as the lone infraction of the period was a Kyle Turris high-sticking call at the 4:15 mark, which the Blue Jackets were unable to convert. No, this was some even strength hockey that generated some chances for both clubs.
Columbus again came out hard, with Scott Hartnell putting a nice shot on Anderson just half a minute in, followed by a flurry of missed shots. Ottawa responded in kind, creating their first sustained pressure of the game, featuring three Columbus blocked shots in a 15 second span -- two of those courtesy of Fedor Tyutin. And so it went for much of the frame -- the two clubs exchanging opportunities. However, despite the statistical appearance of parity, the optics remained largely the same for the first half of the period -- the Blue Jackets appeared to be controlling the pace.
A scary moment came about the mid-point of the period, when Brandon Saad and Mark Borowiecki got tangled in the corner, with Borowiecki apparently hitting his head on the end boards. Borowiecki was down on the ice, motionless, eliciting immediate response from all quarters and the deployment of a stretcher. Fortunately, after what seemed like an eternity, Borowiecki got to his feet and skated off with minor assistance, holding a towel to his head. Good to see.
The Blue Jackets extended their lead at the 14:47 mark, again courtesy of the Jenner-Dubinsky-Atkinson line. This time it was Boone Jenner causing the havoc in front of Anderson, while Brandon Dubinsky skated the puck out from behind the net to Anderson's left. Atkinson was drifting back near the top of the circle on Dubinsky's side, as Chris Wideman came out challenge. Dubinsky fed Atkinson for the one-timer, and the resulting laser beam beat Anderson high to the short side. A perfectly placed shot at the perfect time to provide a two goal lead. The assists went to Dubinsky and . . . yes, Seth Jones again. That was the 20th helper for Jones, tying his career high. Ryan who?
As John Tortorella noted in his post-game remarks, the Blue Jackets got sloppy as the second wore on. They lacked the structure that had characterized the early play, and were lax with the puck. Zack Smith had a breakaway opportunity denied by a beautiful Korpisalo save at the 15:47 mark. To their credit, the Blue Jackets were able to tighten things up a bit as the period wound down, and avoided any tangible damage. They notched 31 shots on goal through two frames -- which is always a good thing. Now, could they maintain the effort through twenty more minutes?
Period Three: Order from Chaos
It would have been too easy for the Blue Jackets to simply come out, continue the possession domination, and take this one to the house. Where is the entertainment value in that? Just 46 seconds into the final period, Boone Jenner went off for what appeared to be a highly embellished tripping call involving Mike Hoffman. Not sufficiently challenged by that, Cam Atkinson made it a two-man advantage 55 seconds later, when he was was whistled for high sticking. Nonetheless it appeared that the Blue Jackets might survive, as the PK unit was keeping the Senators to the perimeter. However, the puck moved to Bobby Ryan, low to Korpisalo's right, who fired one on net. Korpisalo made the save, but in so doing fell backward into his net. His left skate appeared to get momentarily tangled in the net, keeping him from getting back to his feet. Ryan got the puck back, and did not miss this time, lifting the puck over the prostrate Korpisalo to narrow the lead to one. Erik Karlsson and Zibanejad earned the assists.
The third was a chippy affair, with some of Ottawa's frustration starting to show, and the Blue Jackets refusing to back down. At the 4:41 mark, Matt Calvert and Karlsson began a slashing contest in the face-off circle. Karlsson apparently had delegated his fighting duties to Alex Chiasson, who took Calvert on in a spirited contest, with Calvert earning the decision. Matching slashing and fighting penalties left the manpower unchanged, however. At 6:47, Zibanejad and Jenner swapped roughing calls, and the penalty sequence ended at 7:24, when ZIbanejad went off for slashing against Alexander Wennberg. No damage was done in the ensuing power play.
With the two teams apparently having their chippiness out of their respective systems, attention returned to the actual game. At 14:25, the Blue Jackets put together a sequence that has to be close to John Tortorella's ideal series of events. Wennberg made a beautiful block on a Zack Smith shot, and Scott Hartnell deflected the ensuing pass, triggering a 2-on-1 break engineered with Hartnell and Brandon Saad. Hartnell skated the puck hard up the left wing boards, with Saad sprinting down the middle. Hartnell made a beautiful pass, and Saad finished the play with a backhand-forehand move, sliding the puck through the five hole. A two-goal lead restored, with Hartnell and Wennberg earning assists. Time to breathe easy, right? You know better than that . . .
1:18 after Saad's goal, it became a one-goal game once again, when Cody Ceci hammered a slap shot high to the short side, beating Korpisalo. The shot came after an Ottawa flurry, and Korpisalo may have been partially screened by Ryan Murray, who went to one knee in an effort to block the shot. Regardless, it was a cannon that simply beat Korpisalo's glove, with Zibanejad and Phaneuf earning the assists.
The Blue Jackets, however, were not fazed by the narrowing of the lead. They found their structure, and when Anderson was pulled by the extra man, they put pressure throughout the neutral zone, and maintained their structure in the defensive zone. It eventually paid off, with Jenner earning the empty-netter, providing the final margin of victory, and sending the crowd out into the frigid night with the warm glow of another victory.
Summing It Up
The by-word for this one was "calm". Yes, there were mistakes, and the Blue Jackets played what Tortorella characterized as "stupid hockey" at a few times. However, throughout it all, they calmly went about their business, rejecting the inclination to panic and scramble. If quick exit passes were not available, they simply skated the puck out of the zone, rather than lob a "pass to nowhere." In the locker room, Seth Jones acknowledged that the team is gaining confidence -- due in no small part to the performance of young Korpisalo -- and that confidence enables them to be calm in the way they go about their business. Tortorella, while finding fault with the structure in parts of the game, also commended the club for being able to overcome those periods of substandard play, and not surrender goals in the process.
What is becoming apparent is that this is really a group effort. While the Dubinsky-Atkinson-Jenner line was again impressive, lots of guys contributed last night, in a variety of ways. Seth Jones continues to impress, and David Savard played well in his first game back. Dalton Prout continues to treat the puck like a live grenade, but the defensive effort as a whole was solid. Most significantly, they are learning to put the puck on net, and derive the benefits. The face-off circle is getting better, and they are starting to be able to consistently dictate the pace of play. They are 6-2-2 over their last 10, and have reached the .500 mark at home. Pessimists will grump that this is all too little, too late, and that all this does is ruin draft positioning. That's not how players think, and this string is restoring necessary confidence and showing that they can play with anybody. Those are things you can build on. Boston is the next victim. Stay tuned.