It was just nine days ago that Columbus and Detroit faced off at Nationwide Arena in a chippy affair that saw almost as many brawls in the stands as on the ice . . .and more ejections. That one featured a 4 - 1 lead that was nearly squandered by the home team before gathering themselves and prevailing 5 - 3. With the Blue Jackets now firmly entrenched in the role of spoiler, and the Red Wings scratching and clawing to keep their playoff string alive, this one promised to be at least as competitive as the prior encounter.
Adding intrigue to the proceedings were the recent call-ups of Oliver Bjorkstrand, John Ramage and Michael Chaput (along with Justin Falk as an emergency addition.) With Dalton Prout serving his one game suspension (the NHL having ignored Columbus fan requests for more time), Jack Johnson out for the year with shoulder surgery, and John Tortorella's desire to see some of the newer kids, the starting lineup promised to be something new and interesting. Would it make a difference in the outcome? Let's review.
Period One: Lethargy Rules
Due to the call-ups, the lineups were the subject of considerable anticipation. As many figured, Oliver Bjorkstrand drew in with Brandon Dubinsky and Alexander Wennberg, with Michael Chaput centering a fourth line of Gregory Campbell and Matt Calvert. John Ramage was paired with Justin Falk, while John Tortorella continued to split Ryan Murray and Seth Jones, pairing Jones with David Savard, and Murray with Cody Goloubef.
Early action favored the Red Wings, who showed the desperation you would expect for a team that had just fallen below the playoff line. The Blue Jackets almost fell behind early, due to referee Chris Rooney being uncharacteristically out of position, skating into the path of a clearing pass, resulting in a point blank opportunity that Sergei Bobrovsky handled neatly. That seemed to ignite a bit of a fire in the Blue Jackets. Bjorkstrand showed the other forwards how to fire a shot on net, which was followed by a pretty give and go play between Boone Jenner and Cam Atkinson, with Atkinson's tip-in effort going just wide. In a blink, the shots were even.
That momentum would not last, however, as William Karlsson took a high-sticking penalty at the 7:28 mark, which the Blue Jackets killed efficiently, allowing only one shot on goal. However, the power play infused some energy to Detroit. After a couple of non-stop sequences, the officials declined to call an obvious hook/hold in the offensive zone, giving Detroit the chance to head up the ice with speed. With Luke Glendening parked squarely inside the blue paint, channeling his inner Tomas Holmstrom, Andreas Athanasiou brought the puck in hard, dropped the puck to Riley Sheahan, who fired a laser at the net. Glendening tipped the puck -- with his knee -- and Bobrovsky never had a chance. 1- 0 Red Wings at the 10:23 mark.
Columbus mounted another offensive effort, but were frustrated when Scott Hartnell was whistled for high-sticking at the 13:09 mark. That penalty was similarly killed with relative ease, and the game returned to periodic shifts in momentum. With 3:31 left, John Ramage received a "welcome to the NHL" moment, when he was beaten badly by Anthony Mantha. Ramage recovered, however, and deposited Mantha roughly to the ice, into the post and thence against the boards. Mantha needed help from the ice. Ramage didn't. Just sayin' .
No further damage was done in the period, though the Blue Jackets had a few rushes defeated by excessive passing. That was a hallmark of the frame -- too much passing (much of it bad), not enough shooting, and a general "fuzziness" to their game that bespoke the layoff since Sundat afternoon. Detroit won the shots battle 9 - 5, the face-off battle 9 - 7, and was by far the sharper club. It would be reasonable to expect a revitalized approach in the second, after a brief Torotrella attitude adjustment session.
Period Two: Joining the Battle
The Blue Jckates started the middle period with determination, maintaining possession in the offensive zone for most of the first minute, and featuring an actual Alexander Wennberg shot. The pace of the skating was notably quicker than the first, and Columbus won four of the first five face offs.
At 2:29, the Blue Jackets came through the neutral zone with speed, with Karlsson taking the puck down the right wing hard. That forced Kyle Quincey to take a holding penalty, and the Blue Jackets had their first power play of the night, with Bjorkstrand making his debut on the unit. It was a more confident unit than in past games, but a couple of lazy passes back to the point resulted in credible threats the other way. Still, some real threats were posed, including a nice tip play that forced Jimmy Howard to make a superb stop.
The Red WIngs took the puck right back down and had some solid chances, foiled by Bobrovsky and the defense. In the process, Henrik Zetterberg was called for one of those typical Detroit plays that has always been interference, but has never been called. This time it was, though Columbus did nothing with the extr man opportunity. Nonetheless, by the halfway mark of the period, the Blue Jackets had a 10 - 9 lead in shots, a 14-13 lead in face-offs, and we're looking like a more credible threat. Were it not for some really sloppy puck work in the neutral zone, the ice could have been tilted more in the home team's favor.
At the 15:00 minute mark, the Blue Jackerts started to exert some more serious pressure. Nick Foligno played his usually strong possession game, brought the puck to the middle, appeared to be tripped, but just missed the opportunity. The reconfigured fourth line then kept the puck moving in the offensive zone, resulting him mayhem in front of Howard. At 1:54, another golden chance came when Foligno again dominated the puck, and found Hartnell coming down the slot. His shot bounced off Howard, and the puck started to crawl over Howard's shoulder. No luck, however, as Howard recovered, and shoveled it out of the way before Hartnell could follow.
In the shift that followed, Dubinsky -- obviously frustrated -- took an ill-advised holding penalty, again negating momentum and giving Detroit another chance with the extra man. Normally not a recipe for success, the Blue Jackets killed off the final 1:24 in style, having more offensive chances than the Red Wings. Shots were 12 - 7 in favor of Columbus during the period, and face-offs ended even at 19 for the game. While the Blue Jackets would start the third on the kill for 36 more seconds, they held the momentum heading into the room.
The Blue Jackets continued the solid PK effort as the period began, spending the majority of the remaining 36 seconds with possession of the puck in the offensive zone. They pressured the puck effectively on the forechecki during the opening five minutes of play, forcing Detroit to take serial icing calls and burn their time out at the 5:23 mark. Columbus forced two more consecutive icings after the time-out, gained some significant zone time, but could not translate that into shots or scoring chances.
Detroit capitalized on one of their few chances at the 7:16 mark of the period. WIth a bit of an odd man rush developing, the Blue Jackets did a decent job of covering passing lanes. Bobrovsky made the initial save, and the follow-up, and Ryan Murray negated his man at the far post. However, Wennberg was a bit late marking Zetterberg, who did not miss the gaping net, thereby tying Brendan Shanahan on the Red Wings' all time list. Justin Abdelkader and Dylan Larkin had the assists. Vintage Detroit, being patient, then executing on its opportunity.
This one appeared to rattle the Blue Jackets, and Detroit took advantage once again at 12:35, when Darren Helm let loose with a shot from the middle, which deflected off a defender's stick, and over Bobrovsky's shoulder. It was unassisted, and it appeared to be all over but the shouting. It was only Detroit's third shot of the period, but their second goal. Opportunistic? You bet.
Columbus put on some decent offensive flurries as the period wore down, but it all had the feel of closing the barn door after the horses are gone. They ultimately forced a penalty at the 11:10 mark, and managed to convert with 1:00 left in the game, courtesy of Alexander Wennberg. Assists went to Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner. Good to see, but too little, too late.
Wrapping It Up
You can sum this one up in one word: frustrating. Make no mistake, neither team played a scintillating game. As John Tortortella put it so well in his post-game remarks -- "It stunk -- for both teams." That may be some solace, but truly exacerbates the frustration for the Blue Jackets, who were a minute away from being shut out for the second consecutive game. They beat a Detroit team that played better than they did tonight just nine days ago, but could generate nothing on the offensive end.
To be fair, the defensive effort was really pretty solid. Detroit's goals were not of the tic-tac-toe variety, and the Blue Jackets did a good job of limiting their chances and shots for most of the night. As Ryan Murry noted, the bounces went Detroit's way tonight, and the Blue Jackets are not getting many going their way right now.
Make no mistake, there was plenty to complain about with the offensive side of the game. The Blue Jackets were sloppy with the puck all night long, and seemed to lack that extra gear that would enable them to be there for rebound, or wind the puck battle along the boards. They are being too horizontal in their game, and nobody seems willing to grab the puck and take charge right now. Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell and Alex Wennberg came the closest on this night. Sure, rust and new faces played a role, but there was a simple failure to execute that did them in tonight. This is Game 70, and rust or new blood should not be an excuse.
New Jersey comes to town on Saturday, and the Blue Jackets need to find their scoring touch by then, as the Devils laid a 7 - 4 beat down on the Minnesota WIld this night. Ouch. Stay tuned.