It was a tumultuous 36 hours for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Added to the roster were Mark Letestu, Ian Cole, and Thomas Vanek. Gone was Jussi Jokinen. Everyone else remained, including Jack Johnson. After all this, the Blue Jackets played perhaps their most complete game of the season. In his postgame comments, John Tortorella admitted that the pressure of the looming trade deadline had an effect, and it helped the roster to be free of that pressure. There was now the certainty and comfort of knowing exactly what players would be together for the final 20 games.
Five minutes into the game, Columbus got their first power play opportunity. The first unit of Wennberg/Atkinson/Dubois/Panarin/Jones remained intact, and they continued to be successful. Panarin and Jones showed excellent puck movement, with a backhand pass from Jones finding a locked and loaded Panarin in the circle for a one-timer goal.
Within a minute, the Jackets committed a penalty of their own and Washington did their thing. T.J. Oshie won the draw and John Carlson received the puck. He passed across ice to Alex Ovechkin, who scored from his “office” has he has so many times in his career.
How would the Jackets respond? The answer came from an unlikely source: Sonny Milano. We all had high hopes for Milano based on his raw hockey skills, but after the first week of the season he has been disappointing, bouncing back and forth between Cleveland and Columbus and often being invisible in his time here. Not tonight. Not only did he flash his skill, but he showed physicality, toughness, and hustle.
Milano carried the puck out of the defensive zone and all the way into the offensive zone. Once there, he kept the puck shielded from 3 Caps defenders while the CBJ defense changed. Milano let loose a cross ice pass which found a newly arrived Jones. Jones passed down the wall to Wennberg, who delivered a perfect pass through traffic to Milano in the slot. Milano spun and slipped one past Holtby from his backhand.
The Jackets struck again in the back half of the first period. David Savard made a blue line-to-blue line pass to Matt Calvert. Calvert charged the net and served up a drop pass to his old teammate Mark Letestu. Alas, the shot went wide. Lukas Sedlak retrieved the puck, passed back to Calvert behind the net, who battled and sent it back to Letestu in the slot. Letestu admitted that he hated to miss the first shot, and wasn’t going to let “Calvy” down again. The arena went nuts, as did the Columbus bench.
welcome back, mark letestu pic.twitter.com/rty6tjiAax— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) February 27, 2018
It’s amazing what having a good fourth line can do. We had that last season, but not so much this season. This gives Torts a lot more flexibility, and can keep the top lines fresher.
The scoring wasn’t over in the first period. The Jackets got another power play opportunity and again they converted. Again it was Seth Jones at the center of it. He passed to Panarin, who passed across the Atkinson at the opposite dot, who passed back to Jones. Jones waited a bit for a lane to open up, then fired. As with Panarin’s goal, Alexander Wennberg was camped out in front of the goal and made a well timed hop to allow the puck to pass through.
The heat map at the end of the period looked like this:
Pretty, pretty good.
The period ended with a massive scrum between the teams. Ovechkin shoved Calvert, who punched back. Of course nothing happened to Ovie, but Calvert was given a game penalty for some reason. Noted P.O.S. Tom Wilson earned a roughing penalty for his scuffle with Sedlak.
Those penalties were served to start the second, and after Wilson’s penalty expired the Caps had a 3 minute major. The much-maligned CBJ PK stood tall and managed to kill it off, only allowing two dangerous shots from Ovechkin that either hit the post or went wide. Letestu in particular played a key role, demonstrating a major reason why he was acquired.
That kill took away any chance Washington had to gain back some momentum. From then on Columbus controlled the game.
The last score came with just less than three minutes remaining. On a power play, Washington pulled their goalie Grubbauer (Holtby was benched after the first period). Atkinson hustled on the forecheck, stole the puck, and put it in the net to seal the victory.
- Josh Anderson left the game in the third after getting tripped and taking a nasty fall. Hopefully he is OK.
- This was the first Columbus victory over Washington since November 2016.
- The Blue Jackets now have a very nice 69 points and have opened up a 4 point lead over the New York Islanders, and 5 point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes. Each of those teams made one minor move at the deadline, compared to the 3 moves the Jackets did to address areas of concern: special teams (Letestu); finishing (Vanek); and defensive depth (Cole).
- Philadelphia defeated Montreal in a shootout tonight and thus leapfrogged Washington for first place in the Metro.
- Jack Johnson led all Jackets in time on ice, at 21:39. Ian Cole was the least used defender at 16:48, but he had a solid game with David Savard.
- This chart shows the extent of the Jackets’ control of the game:
- The team now travels to sunny California for a 3 game road trip, beginning Thursday in Los Angeles. Vanek will join the team there. Whose spot will he take in the lineup? Anderson, if he’s banged up? Calvert? Jenner? Certainly Milano has earned the chance to stay in the lineup for another game.