Game 21: Close, But Not Quite

Close. That's the only way I can describe this game. The Jackets had more than a few chances tonight, but Jimmy Howard was outstanding, and though the Jackets skated with the Wings for much of the night, they couldn't find their game when needed, particularly on the Power Play.

The Jackets had a chance tonight to take over first place in the Western Conference - and tonight, at least, they couldn't make it over that hill. But there were positive signs, despite that.

Despite taking the first three power plays of the game, the Jackets could not find a solution to Jimmy Howard, including two frustrating near-misses - one coming early when Nikita Filatov had an opportunity on a rebound down low that had Howard beaten, but his stick was slashed by Ruslan Salei during the attempt, and broke when when making contact with the puck, and another where Jakub Voracek had an open net, but the puck slid wide and bounced harmlessly away.

Scoreless through the first period, the Jackets had a narrow edge on the shot clock, 12-13, and were outdrawing and outhitting the Wings.

Despite that, though, it would be Detroit that drew first blood in the second period, taking advantage of a bad dump from Jan Hejda during a line change, leading to a three on one rush backwards for Detroit. Anton Stralman did what he could to take away the direct scoring chance. but Todd Bertuzzi was able to feed Johan Franzen, who beat Steve Mason wide for the 1-0 lead.

Despite that, the Jackets kept pushing, even earning a Jared Boll penalty shot on a great breakaway opportunity, and two more power plays, but the Red Wings PK did an outstanding job of denying the Jackets opportunities to set up and move the puck, breaking the cycles and shoveling the puck back down into Columbus territory.

The teams would end the second with the Wings up 1-0, but a feeling that it was still a close game.

Unfortunately, in the third, the Wings would find more momentum when Fedor Tyutin went to the box for a cross-check on Henrik Zetterberg, and though the PK did well initially, it was a flashback to the early season, with the PK easing up in the dying seconds of the penalty, and the Wings converting on a bang-bang passing play between Brad Stuart, Jiri Hudler, and Valtteri Filppula.

Down 2-0, some years, the Jackets probably would have gone home then and there, but the team still had fight in them. Jared Boll. escalated to the second line to fill in for an ineffective Filatov, grabbed a rebound down low from R.J. Umberger right in front of the net, shot right on Howard from the top of the goal crease, and the rebound popped to Antoine Vermette, who fired into the open net to cut the Wings' lead in half.

The Jackets turned up the pressure, but Howard made several more outstanding saves, and even with the Jackets taking Mason off for the extra skater late, they couldn't find an answer.

The Jackets would lose, 2-1, but it's not the crippling 9-1 or 5-2 debacles that have sometimes come out of games against the Wings.

Frustrating, certainly, and you got that impression from the team - probably the clearest image came from Jake Voracek, with about two minutes left in the game, finishing a shift where he'd been unable to collect a cross-crease pass from Nash that would have tied things up, going to the bench and staring at the jumbotron for a long moment, to the point where assistant coach Bob Boughner had to give the young winger a pretty hard shake on his shoulder to get his attention and re-focus him before showing him a quick diagram on his hand board.

But it was a game that the Jackets were in, and stayed in, right to the whistle. If there are going to be losses (and there will be losses, of course), I'd far rather see ones like this where the team was clearly fighting the entire night than one where the game was over ten minutes into the contest.

Standard Bearers:

  • Jared Boll - Even if he didn't convert on his (first ever) penalty shot, Boll was driving hard all night, and the coaches clearly recognized it with his bump up to the second line. He wasn't perfect, but he was a clear driving force all evening.
  • Steve Mason - Neither of those goals were Mason's fault, and a .938 save percentage tonight was pretty damned good. He kept the team in the game, particular when Detroit had a power play shortly after Vermette's goal.
  • Antoine Vermette - Vermette and Umberger seem to be heating up again, which could be very important if the top line continues to cool off a bit.

Bottom Of The Barrel:

  • Power Play - 0 for 6 on the man advantage. 0 for 6. At some point it stops being the lack of Huselius, or "trying too hard at home." I'm wondering if the team needs to shake up both power play units.
  • Nikita Filatov - Nothing's gone right for Filatov in the goal scoring department, and he was clearly struggling tonight. The coaching staff put Filatov on the bench for much of the third period - I"m wondering if he may spend Sunday in the press box. I almost wonder if a trip to Springfield to get some of his scoring confidence back might help.

All in all, it's not terrible - the team is still in a playoff spot, and they still did a lot of things right tonight - it just never quite came together. The Jackets will travel to Detroit tomorrow, to take on the Wings at 5:00pm Sunday at Joe Louis Arena. Here's hoping for a heaping helping of Revenge.

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