Game 1: Familiar Foes

A promising start was undone by the familiar enemies of sloppiness and hesitation. The result: a 6 - 3 loss to Boston.

Brad Marchand. David Backes. David Pastrnak.  Those are the three names you need to remember to tell the ultimate story of this game, as Boston scored five consecutive goals in the back half of the game to spoil the Columbus home opener, 6 - 3.  The three line mates combined for all six goals (including an empty-netter), and an equal number of assists (with Marchand garnering three of them).  Marchand was a plus-6, and the other two “only” plus-5.   Naturally, the story of how those three came to dominate the result is a bit more involved, so let’s dig in.

After a spirited, but not over-the-top sequence of opening ceremonies, the sellout crowd of 18,144 was engaged and ready for action.  For the first two minutes, however, they primarily saw Boston skating around in the Blue Jackets’ zone, as an obviously-nervous young group struggled to gain their bearings, trying to navigate the neutral zone trap Boston utilized early.  However, gain them they did.

While playing 4-on-4, and after a series of nice saves by Sergei Bobrovsky resulted in a defensive zone face-off, Zach Werenski neatly avoided pressure, took the puck behind his own net and dished to Seth Jones along the right hand boards.  Jones found Alexander Wennberg at speed, and Wennberg did the rest.  He skated the puck across three lines, and when the Boston defenders continued to retreat, he let loose with a wrist shot from above the circles, beating Tukka Rask beneath his left arm.  The Blue Jackets had the first goal of the season, Zach Werenski had his first NHL point, and the “Safe is Death” mantra seemed to be alive and well.  (Jones earned the primary assist).  Wennberg, whose family was in attendance, described his thought process as follows:

My first thought was to look for a pass, but we’ve been talking about shooting more, so I just threw it in there. It wasn’t the best shot, but it works.

Work it did.

The Blue Jackets continued to force the pace as the period progressed, and showed overall good support in their own zone.  Although outshot 11 - 9 in the first period, the Blue Jackets had the bulk of the dangerous opportunities.  For the most part, these were frustrated either by a missed shot, extra pass or turnover, and these sins would ultimately come back to bite them hard. Still, the optics were of a fast, skilled club able to play in three zones, which itself was a refreshing sight on home ice.

The pace appeared to take its toll on Boston, and Austin Czarnik was whistled for holding against Jack Johnson at 17:08.  It took precisely 17 seconds for the home team to double its lead.  After winning the face-off, the Blue Jackets worked the puck laterally at the top of the zone, ultimately finding Wennberg near the right point. Wennberg zipped the puck to Nick Foligno at the goal line to Rask’s left, who immediately lasered the puck to Cam Atkinson as he crept toward Rask’s right post.  The one-timer found nothing but net, and the home club was seemingly in control as they went to the locker room with a 2 - 0 lead.

Boston provided a reminder that they know a thing or two about hockey early in the 2nd. In a case of rookie brain melt, Werenski made a lazy backhand pass to Jones below his own goal line. Jones compounded the error by fumbling the puck, Marchand pounced, and Pastrnak parked the puck from point blank range to reduce the lead to one.  However, the Blue Jackets scored just a few minutes later, culminating a nice shift   by Foligno & Co. , creating havoc in front of Tuukka Rask.  Seth Jones pressed in from the point, and zipped the puck over the embattled netminder, atoning for his prior miscue.  Foligno earned his second assist of the night on the play, with Brandon Saad earning his first point of the season with the other helper.

If I was merciful, I would end the recap here, and leave the rest to your imagination.  However, duty requires that I provide the unvarnished story.  It was a story of turnovers and missed assignments. We already know the actors, so a brief recitation of the lines should suffice:

  • At 13:36 of the 2nd, Zdeno Chara let loose with one of his patented cannons from the point. The shot missed wide to Bobrovsky’s right, but took a carom off the boards worthy of Joe Louis Arena.  Bobrovsky tracked Pastrnak, who was closing on the puck to his left, marked by Werenski.   Werenski deftly lifted Pastrnak’s stick, taking him out of the play, but allowing the puck to remain free.  Dubinsky was late in getting to a charging Backes, and the score was 3 - 2.
  • Less than four minutes later, Backes struck again when Jones got caught on the wrong side of him and failed to tie up his stick. The result was a nasty, change-up deflection of a point shot for which Bobrovsky had no chance.  Tie game.
  • At the 9:54 mark of the third, after David Savard made a nice play to keep the puck in the offensive zone, Boone Jenner made an inexplicable no-look pass behind him . . . to nobody except Boston.  That set loose a breakaway for Pastrnak, which Bob denied.  However, Savard was unable to keep up with Marchand, who had an open net for the inevitable rebound. 4 - 3 Boston.
  • At 15:25, Marchand provided a skating lesson to young Markus Nutivaara, twisting him inside out as he worked the puck from the right half-wall to the middle, where Jack Johnson was perched, apparently with the mission of 1) guarding his designated patch of empty ice, and 2) screening Bobrovsky from the little wrister that Marchand parked behind him. 5 - 3 Boston.
  • Pastrnak’s empty netter at 19:02 provided the culmination to the evening’s proceedings. /

Post-game, coach John Tortorella took longer then usual to make his way to the press conference dais.  When he arrived, he was concise and direct:

We weren’t good in the first period either. Don’t let the score fool you. We weren’t good throughout the game. Tentative, sloppy . . .you can use a lot of different words, right on through.  No matter what the score was. . .It goes right through our team. Don’t put it on the young defense . . .I don’t think we were even close.

From the optics and the numbers, the implicit indictment of some of the veterans appears justified.  While not a fan of plus/minus as an absolute individual statistic, it can provide some measure for comparison within a team.  On that score, Dubinsky & Jenner (minus-five each) led the way, and were demonstrably bad throughout the game. Atkinson (minus-four) was in part a victim of his linemates, and in part an active co-conspirator.  Scott Hartnell was largely invisible, and the fourth line irrelevant.  Savard and Johnson failed to actively plug the gaps resulting from the inevitable youngster mistakes.

Sure, Werenski, Jones and Nutivaara each made some mistakes, but that is the inevitable price of youth.  You need your veterans to be there when that happens, and that did not happen on this evening.

On the bright side, the Blue Jackets showed that they can play with the pace Tortorella wants to see, and the play of Wennberg, Saad and Foligno was encouraging.  The down side was the slide into mental disarray from the middle of the second on.  Sloppiness can and will be fixed, and most of the Bruins’ tallies came as the direct result of turnovers and missed assignments, with four of the six coming at the edge of the blue ice.  Bob might like to have the last Marchand goal back, but this night was not primarily his cross to bear.

Disappointing? Certainly.   Toxic? Not yet.  The test will be how they respond on Saturday.

Quirky fact of the evening:  Whether it was the proximity of so many high-powered politicians in the neighborhood, humidity level or something else, the Nationwide ice was having issues all night.  Skaters were falling right and left, seemingly prime chances were wasted as pucks appeared to stick, and quite a few sticks went to the composite graveyard last night.

Stay tuned.

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