Game 1(X) Recap: Knocking the Rust Off
The Blue Jackets opened their preseason with a rather lugubrious tilt against the Penguins, but there were some useful takeaways from the eventual shootout loss.
It's a little tough to give a good accounting of a game you weren't at when your only resources were the radio broadcast, box scores, and reactions on social media, so I won't try to do a more conventional recap - particularly for a game which ended in a scoreless draw before finally being settled in the shootout.
What the fans who did head down to Nationwide Arena got was...well, the first preseason game for both clubs. With lineups filled with a fair amount of prospects, AHLers, and a sprinkling of NHL regular talent, it's not surprising that both teams had trouble getting things to click tonight, or that the physicality started aggressive and boiled over into fisticuffs before long.
What was a little surprising was the stellar performance both teams received in net - for the Jackets, Joonas Korpisalo continued the dominant play he showed off at the Traverse City tournament, turning aside 34 shots in regulation, five in OT, and stopping two out of three shooters. On the other end of the ice, Pittsburgh's Jeff Zatkoff stopped 23 in the first two periods, then handed the net over to Tristan Jarry, who would stop 7 shots between the third period and OT before stoning two shooters. (The final shooter for Columbus, Ryan Murray, lost control of the puck and never managed a shot on net.)
In terms of on-ice performance, the "NHL" line of Scott Hartnell, Alexander Wennberg, and Cam Atkinson generated a lot of heat for the club, but never quite managed to put things together for a goal - including a couple of chances that fell apart because of a #HartnellDown flop. Likewise, the combination of Oliver Bjorkstrand, William Karlsson, and Sonny Milano spent a lot of time buzzing around the net, but couldn't find a solution to either of the Penguins' goaltenders.
Defensively, the "top line" of Murray and David Savard gave the impression of a pair still trying to work things out, and unfortunately that lead to several turnovers and on-ice gaffes. Nothing fatal, in part because of Korpisalo's quick glove, but it seems like they'll need a little more time to bake. Not too surprising given all the time Murray missed last year, but hopefully he can get himself into form relatively quickly.
In the aforementioned scraps, it was good to see guys like Hartnell and Josh Anderson standing up for their teammates after some questionable hits, and you won't be surprised to hear that Jared Boll destroyed AHL tomato can Reid McNeill, but there wasn't much else to report aside from the hilarious moment where Bobby Farnham attempted to line up a check on Cam Atkinson and ended up trucking himself into the boards instead.
The game would have included a 3 on 3 OT regardless of score, but it was a little more interesting to have the game actual riding on it. Unfortunately, thanks to a penalty by PTO Antti Pihlstrom, the Jackets spent most of it on the PK, but there were glimpses of potential in the way both teams were able to spring players with long stretch passes and odd man rushes thanks to the additional space on the ice.
As experiments go, it was interesting, and impressive that the Jackets were able to perform a successful PK under that pressure. We'll see how it goes, but there's potential for a lot of interesting combinations, particularly once coach Richards gets more of the regular lineup on the ice. (Do I want to see Brandon Saad and Ryan Johansen on the ice for 3 on 3? You bet I do.)
In the end...tonight as a whole could also be filed under "interesting experiments." Both teams collected some useful data. Fans got to see (or hear) honest to god live hockey again after the long offseason. Some players got their first taste of what it's like to play in an NHL rink. But it's the first game of the preseason, and there's plenty more combinations and experiments to play with before we really start getting a feel for what this season's team will really look like.