Game 33 Recap: Through The Fingers

While the Blue Jackets have to be pleased about earning a point vs. St. Louis, and moving into 4th place in the Metro, this was a game where the second point was very possible, had they not failed to capitalize on a number of missed opportunities.

Full disclosure: Due to moving house and having some friends over to help us finish up heavy lifting / have dinner, I had to re-watch this game on the DVR to get a decent idea of events, which means I was aware of the outcome from the start.

In abstract, this wasn't a bad game at all - with both teams riding a hot streak coming into tonight's game, the Blues are currently 2nd place in the central, 4th in the West. This was facing off against the very definition of a playoff caliber squad...and then you take into account the small ocean of bad blood between the two clubs.

The Jackets left tonight with a point, thanks to the OT loss, and moved themselves into 9th place in the East, just three pints back of Carolina for the 3rd place slot in the Metropolitan, but it's hard not to look at this game as it unfolded and not wince at the different ways it could have been their fifth straight win on home ice, and moving the Canes and Caps into clear striking distance.

With Mike McKenna in net to face Jaroslav Halak, things looked good in the first minute or two, with the Jackets getting the first few chances of the match, but the Blues would draw first blood on their first shot of the game thanks to repeated Jacket-killer Vladimir Tarasenko. First, Tarasenko would break up a clearing attempt by Boone Jenner at the Columbus Blue line, then the young Russian slipped down to the slot while his teammates moved the puck around. Mike McKenna would make a pad stop on Jay Bouwmeester's shot from the boards, but the rebound popped into the open ice, where #91 was waiting to capitalize on it for the early lead.

A few years ago, that likely would have been the end of it, given the way the Blues lock down into the "Hitch Hockey" we all know so well, but things are changing on Nationwide Boulevard, and St. Louis got a taste of it when two new Jackets struck back. Artem Anisimov lead a quick reverse and breakthrough into the offensive zone, then slipped the puck over to Blake Comeau. Comeau pounded his way to the front of the net, then sent a goal mouth pass past Halak and back to AA, who chipped it up and into the net for the tying goal.

Things really got rolling as the eight minute mark approached. Working the top of the offensive zone, Fedor Tyutin caught a St. Louis turnover right at the blue line, loaded up, and blasted a hard slapper that went right past Halak for the 2-1 lead.

In the midst of that, you also had the start of a parade of penalties that would go on most of the beginning with Roman Polak going for playing the puck with a broken stick. The Jackets' power play went to work, but wasn't finding much until about 3/4 of the way through the penalty, when Ian Cole, Barret Jackman, and Matt Calvert got into an exchange of checks that escalated into all three guys guys dropping the gloves.

I have to confess that Cole speed-bagged Calvert pretty good. On the plus side, Nick Foligno came to Calvert's defense with Jackman, giving him a bit of the old Istanbul Twist, and Columbus eventually came out of the scrum with a brief two man advantage thanks to Jackman taking an additional roughing minor.

It didn't take long at all to capitalize - Ryan Johansen would win the ensuing faceoff back to the D, and Jack Johnson would cycle back to Brandon Dubinsky at the half wall. Dubi curled in, got Halak to bite on a fake, then passed through traffic to Ryan Johansen, who was ready and waiting with a nice shot that went off the inner post and into the net for a 3-1 lead.

With a two goal lead and a ton of energy, it's not entirely shocking that the Jackets got a little too fired up in the second period, and that's where St. Louis found their feet again.

The Jackets would take a pair of early penalties, one to Nikitin for delay of game that the club was able to kill, and one to Jack Johnson for a slash on Jaden Schwartz that didn't end so well. Tarasenko would burn the club again, this time taking the puck just to the top of the faceoff circle while Brendan Morrow worked David Savard around the crease to create a screen. Tarasenko fired a hard wrist shot that McKenna never saw, and suddenly this was a one goal game again.

With that said, the Blues gave Columbus every chance to get back into this one - following the Tarasenko goal, here's a look at the scorer's sheet:

9:37 STL #46 - 2 min for Charging

12:27 STL #91 - 2 min for Cross Checking

17:12 STL #10 - 2 min for Tripping

19:01 STL #12 - 2 min for Hooking

I'll admit that Corey Tropp did have a hook of his own in there, but that's four minor penalties (including another brief 5 on 3 overlap) that the Jackets were handed, and they came up dry. Some of that is credit to Jaro Halak, as the Jackets did put 11 shots on goal during those four power plays, but they still represent a wide open door that the team couldn't get through.

The third period saw some more chances for Columbus, but the Blues generally owned it, putting their heads down and generating some serious steam. Brandon Dubinsky had one goal mouth chance that looked like a sure thing - so much so that the goal horn went off - but his shot went wide and off the iron, to the crowd's great frustration.

It looked like it might not matter, however, as the Jackets were grimly hanging on to the lead into the late third period. Mark Letestu got a step on the Blues defense and found himself on a breakaway against Halak, but couldn't bury his chance to give the Jackets an insurance goal, and the St. Louis counterattack from that play would see a crash around the Columbus crease before Chris Stewart scooped up a loose rebound and popped it over a sprawling McKenna for the tying goal.

The game would go to OT, which hurts a lot less against a cross-conference opponent, but unfortunately the Jackets would lose this one in an eyeblink.

Fedor Tyutin got worked by Alex Steen, but managed to poke the puck up to the top of the zone. AA tried to clear it for him, but David Backes would pick his pocket and burst past both defenders. Tyutin tried to hook the Inglorious captain to force the shot wide, but to no avail - he found a gap through McKenna's pads and buried the game winner.

Final Score: Blues 4 - Jackets 3 (OT)

There are a lot of positives here - not the least that we stood up and played a hard fought match against one of the best teams in the West and came out with at least some reward, but the missed opportunities were all you heard about from both coach Richards and the players in the post game, and you have to think that's going to be sticking with them when the Jets come to town tomorrow.

Something tells me they're going to have some fire in their eyes Monday night. We've still got a home ice points steak. Time to keep that going.

Standard Bearers:

  • Ryan Johansen - Another big effort and what was a very big goal late in the first period. Good morning, NHL. How about a cup of the Johan?
  • Mike McKenna - McMac got hung out a bit to dry last night, particularly on the tying and OT goals, and that after stopping an onslaught of 14 St. Louis shots in the third period to that point. He wasn't perfect, and I will admit that his rebound control was a pretty significant contributor to our problems, but he put up a good effort in his first full start, and it would have been nice to get him the win for his first home game.
  • Fedor Tyutin - Beauty goal and some hard work marred by the OT turnover, but he did everything possible to prevent that goal short of just horse-collaring Backes to the ground. On the plus side, Tyuuts tends to be a streaky scorer - maybe this will be the start of a nice offensive push./

Bottom Of The Barrel:

  • 1 / 7 - I'll stop harping, I promise, and I realize the PP units are missing Gaborik, Wiz, and Horton, but still. Seven opportunities to take over this game, and six came up dry. When a team gives you that many chances, you have to capitalize. If we'd converted one or two more of the chances in the second period, it's a totally different third.
  • Corey Tropp - Outside of the ability to make a hit, I'm really not seeing what made Tropp such an exciting waiver pickup. I get that the club is trying to work him in and get him to learn the system, but I feel like Jack Skille was playing a lot better in his last opportunities, particularly alongside Letestu and Jenner.
  • Matt Calvert's Fighting Moves - Um...I realize Boll is still too banged up to skate, but maybe ask him for a few lessons in the sweet science before you try that again, huh?

As always, here's the advanced stats breakdown over at Extra Skater.

At the end of the day, the Jackets are still riding a point streak, have gotten wins in four of the last six games, and are looking at some pretty big opportunities to make hay against the Flyers and Hurricanes right before the holiday break. Gaborik is likely to return shortly, hence Skille's return to Springfield, and Wiz and Horton aren't so far behind. If McElhinney is ready for next week, and Bob perhaps able to go after the new year, suddenly we've got a lot of energy and momentum to tackle the second half of the season.

The club looks like they're really hitting their stride at the right time. This could be a lot of fun to watch.

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