Game 4(X): Jackets Power Past Blues 5-4
Despite facing a St. Louis line-up that was deep in NHL regulars, the Blue Jackets relied on special teams to build a big lead, then hung on for a 5-4 win.
Pre-season is not the time you expect to see premium efficiency on the power play, as rosters are replete with newcomers, and the chemistry and timing that are essential with the extra man are just not there. For the first three games of the pre-season, the Blue Jackets adhered to that expectation. Last night, however, the tables were turned, as Columbus notched three power play tallies, one short-handed goal, and a token full strength marker to earn a 5 - 4 victory over the St. Louis Blues,
The Blues approached last night's game in the Scottrade Center as a dress rehearsal for the regular season, featuring a significant number of regulars. Presumptive starter Brian Elliott played the full 60 minutes, and the cast in front of him included the likes of T.J. Oshie, Vladimir Tarasenko, Peter Mueller, Magnus Paajarvi, Alex Pietrangelo, Paul Stastny and Jay Bouwmeester. For the Blue Jackets, Fedor Tyutin, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Mark Letestu, Dalton Prout and Jared Boll made up the veteran contingent, with goaltending duties split between Curtis McElhinney (Periods 1 & 2) and Anton Forsberg (Period 3). On paper, it seemed like a mismatch, but they don't play the games on paper.
St. Louis proved to be generous hosts, committing the first four penalties of the game in the first period, including a double minor for Pajarvi's high stick on Nick Foligno. However, before the march to the penalty box began, Mark Letestu started the scoring with a goal off a terrific feed from Foligno just 3:50 into the game. Cody Goloubef, who continued his string of good play, notched the second assist.
Four minutes later, a strange sentence could be spoken: "Jared Boll with the power play goal." Yes, indeed. Boller tickled the twine with the extra man, extending the lead to 2 -0 , with help from roster contenders Marko Dano and Simon Hjalmarsson. Not quite two minutes later, Ryan Craig joined the festivities with a power play marker, with Dano again providing an assist, and Frederic St. Denis getting on the scoresheet. At the lucky 13:13 mark of the 1st, Fedor Tyutin banged home a slap shot, with Hjalmarsson and Letestu garnering the helpers. 4 - 0 for the good guys. Joakim Lindstrom brought some life to the crowd with a goal with 1:41 left in the period. Nonetheless, the Blue Jackets had earned a 4-1 lead at the first intermission, and the biggest question seemed to be whether Ken Hitchcock would unilaterally make some roster moves before the second period started.
Not wishing to be impolite guests, the Blue Jackets reciprocated the Blue's generosity in the 2nd period, committing five penalties in the frame, including two fighting majors. In the heavyweight bout, Dalton Prout took on David Backes, while Thomas Larkin out-pointed Cody Beach in the other contest. Despite spending about half the period on the PK, the Blue Jackets scored first, when Dana Tyrell put a nifty short-handed, unassisted wrister past Elliott, restoring the four goal lead and ending the scoring for Columbus.
David Backes narrowed the gap for the home team with 2:29 left in the 2nd, and Tarasenko notched a pair in the final period to make the score close. Both teams appeared to lose interest as the game wound down, as the combination of the early flurry of goals and extended PK time for both clubs sapped the available energy.
It's the pre-season, so you can't go overboard with analysis, but a few things pop out. First, Nick Foligno and Mark Letestu look really good, which bodes well for the season. Cody Goloubef is making a similar showing on the blue line. Given the issues with Murray's health and the waiver status of the involved players, don't be surprised if the Blue Jackets open with 8 defensemen -- Johnson, Wisniewski, Tyutin, Savard, Murray, Proud, Goloubef & Erixon. Hjalmarsson and Dano join Alexander Wennberg and Kerby Rychel in seeming very comfortable at the NHL level, posing some pleasant problems for the front office. Kudos to Jared Boll for responding to the immense heat being generated by the young bucks after his job.
While it's tough to make any systemic conclusions from pre-season contests, the one factor that has been consistent is the club's tendency to get seriously out-shot. After equaling St. Louis in the 1st with 12 shots, Columbus managed only 10 during the remainder of the game, and that lack of pressure contributed to the game being close. Columbus has been out-shot 148 to 90 during the four pre-season games. While some of this is situational, that's a big gap, and I'd be reminding the boys that good things happen when the puck is on the net, and bad things happen with it's not. You can't count on maintaining the team's shooting percentage of almost 17% for an entire season. Still, it's the pre-season, so no need to sound alarm bells. Just a trend worth noticing.
Perhaps the biggest and best takeaway from the pre-season thus far is the really remarkable level of young talent in the system. That's the gift that keeps on giving. Stay tuned.