Game 6 Recap: The Struggle Within

"Struggle within / It suits you fine
Struggle within / You're ruined
Struggle within / You seal your own coffin
Struggling within..."

The new song that Jackets have picked to exit the dressing room and head to the bench is aptly named "The Struggle Within" by Metallica. Another omen? It's from their album commonly referred to as "The Black Album". With the way the season has started for Columbus, with no wins through five games heading into this one and questions about their effort and heart, there definitely has been some struggling within on this team.

"Advantages are taken not handed out / While you struggle inside your Hell"

The Jackets were undermanned, without Jeff Carter, Marc Methot, and with a QMJHL emergency call-up as the backup goaltender. The team was coming off a grueling practice on Sunday after a lack-luster finish Saturday night. R.J. Umberger said that if they didn't respond with a solid effort, it meant they had no heart. There's even some trade talk, already.

So, with all of that on the table, how would they respond?

After it was all over, this is one the Jackets felt like they should have won. But, as we've seen so far, that doesn't seem to really matter. Their goalie was not good when they needed him to be, and they managed 40 shots and just two goals. "We worked very hard, and I'd have loved to have seen the guys get rewarded with that kind of effort," coach Scott Arniel said after the game.

Sadly, they would not be.

Early on, the Jackets carried the play, opening up a 6-1 shots advantage in the first few minutes of the game. Alexandre Giroux was noticeable early on, with two solid chances in the first three minutes. Around the 5:00 mark, Aaron Johnson--who was also solid tonight except for one hiccup--would snap a shot past Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen that may or may not have Derek Dorsett's skate, but the goal was immediately waved off due to Dorsett's being in the crease. The call was questionable, but nonetheless the Jackets were turned away.

Per the insanely awesome Rob Mixer of the CBJ, Dorsett was called because he was facing the goalie and made contact, and the puck glanced off his skate on the way in.

"Their guy kind of shoved me in," Dorsett said. "I got out before the pass was even made. There's no contact for two or three seconds after that pass was made and it goes in. I think it's a goal. I think it was a bad call. There's nothing I can do about it now."

The rest of the first period was largely uneventful, with only one questionable penalty (the Stars' Steve Ott for goaltender interference at 11:41) and a rather yawn-inducing fight between newly called up Cody Bass and Jake Dowell at 17:07. There wasn't really a winner, but if there was it probably wasn't Bass.

The Jackets held a decided edge in shots in the first, going into the room with a 12-5 advantage.

End of 1st Period: 0-0

The Jackets came out just a touch flat in the second, allowing the first three shots on goal to the Stars. And, that was all it would take. Steve Ott came in on the right side, and snapped a shot by Steve Mason low to his glove side at 4:17 to make it 1-0 Stars. It was a pretty soft one that Mason would probably like to have back. Assists went to Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn.

1-0 Stars, 4:17 of the 2nd Period

The Jackets had a choice to make: fight back, or fold up shop. Thankfully, for the most part, they chose the former. Though the Power Play continued to confound them, they managed to out-shoot the Stars for the remainder of the period 12-3, to take a 24-11 advantage into the room.

But, back to that Power Play. The Stars gave them a golden chance 7:17 in. Ryan Johansen was off for Columbus on a ticky-tack goaltender interference call at 6:46, but the Jackets PK was solid, drawing a high-stick penalty on Stephane Robidas at 7:17. After 1:17 of spirited 4-on-4, the Stars got nailed for too-many-men, and the Jackets had a golden chance with Johansen coming out of the box for a 5-on-3 just 12 seconds into that penalty. Overall, they had 12 seconds of 4-on-3, 31 second of 5-on-3 after that, and another 1:17 of 5-on-4.

They got some shots, but they never really could get a legitimate solid scoring chance. As I called it in the game thread, the Power Play’s problem is that the guys down low pick a spot and stand in it. Only Nash among the forwards was moving around toward the end of the long stretch of PP time. David Savard looks like he doesn’t want to shoot from the point, either. They basically let two defenders stand still down low, and because of all of this the pointmen end up passing the puck back and forth because there are no lanes to shoot through.

End of 2nd Period: 1-0 Stars

The third period started with a thud, as the Jackets turned the puck over to the Stars, who then fed it to Jamie Benn on the right wing just outside the blue line. Benn spun around Kris Russell, basically went 1-on-4 into the Columbus zone, and got in on Mason unchecked. Mason couldn't seem to decide whether to try to poke check, or hold his line. He went half-down, tried to recover, but Benn roofed it over him at 1:31 to make it 2-0 Dallas.

2-0 Stars, 1:31 of the 3rd Period

The Jackets had some fight in them tonight, after all. After a nasty Sheldon Souray cross-check, the Jackets dreadful Power Play finally got even for their miscues in the second. Scoring what can only be called a "quintessential Power Play goal," Rick Nash had the puck at the left point, fired it on net, and Derick Brassard was in front to clean up the rebound for his first goal of the season, and the franchise's 2000th goal.

2-1 Stars, 5:06 of the 3rd Period

In typical fashion, however, the Jackets couldn't stand the taste of success. Not 90 seconds later, Sheldon Souray unleashed his bomb of a shot from the left point, and Michael Ryder got a stick on it in front to knock it low through Mason's five-hole. Just like that, it was...

3-1 Stars, 6:27 of the 3rd Period

It was looking bleak for Columbus. They couldn't cash in on another Souray penalty at 8:53. Despite holding a ridiculous shots advantage, Kari Lehtonen was keeping them out. Every time the Jackets would get something going, a lost edge, or an inaccurate pass, or a blocked shot, or just a better save was made to stop them. The hour was getting late.

And then, a weird thing happened. The guy in the #10 sweater had the puck at the right point, skated to the middle, and no one came out to take him. He smoked a wrister that beat Lehtonen to the glove side. The goal was Russell's first of the season, and was unassisted.

3-2 Stars, 17:05 of the 3rd Period

The crowd (however many of the announced 9,158 that decided to show up) got to their feet, got back into the game, and the Jackets honestly dominated most of those last three minutes. They had numerous excellent chances, with a redirection in front just missing the net and a shot that got through Lehtonen and trickled to the right post just missing. When it looked like Michael Ryder was going to skate in uncontested for an empty-netter after Grant Clitsome couldn't keep the puck away from him, Russell got back, forced him wide, and actually used his body to keep Ryder from getting a shot off.

But, the Jackets couldn't get the equalizer when they needed it. For the sixth straight game, they scored just two goals.

"I liked our line combinations," said coach Arniel. "I liked the way we went out tonight. I had no problems with that. I think that we're squeezing our sticks at times. We had a couple of glorious chances where we fanned on them a little bit. It's just trying to stay with it, trying to fight your way through this. We've gotta keep hammering away. It's a good sign that our Power Play is getting some. Hopefully we can continue to grow from there."

Final Score: 3-2 Stars

Standard Bearers:

  • Jamie Benn - Sorry to put him first, but his roofer goal over Mason after going 1-on-4 unchecked was a killer, and he also had an assist on Ott's opening goal for Dallas.
  • Alexandre Giroux - He skated hard, created some solid offense, and didn't look out of place playing a top-6 role with Vinny Prospal and Antoine Vermette. He also played fairly well on the PP.
  • Derick Brassard - Wasn't entirely great, but got in the score sheet and didn't look completely overmatched in his first game back at center and with the top line.
  • Kris Russell - Not the best overall game, but it was nice to see some offense, and his solid defensive effort on Michael Ryder nullified an almost sure empty-netter that gave the Jackets a little life at the end.

Bottom of the Barrel:

  • Steve Mason - This loss falls heavily on his shoulders, in my opinion. Two of the three goals were kind of soft, and though Benn smoked four guys en route to Mason for the middle goal Mason kind of got caught in between just the same. He just wasn't very good tonight, and the Jackets paid for it. 3 goals allowed every night--especially on just 18 shots--just isn't going to cut it anymore.
  • The Jackets' Skill - I don't know how to quantify this any better. 40 shots. 2 goals. It's unacceptable. I know Lehtonen has been playing well to start the year, but don't make his job easier. The Jackets routinely settle for outside shots when there is not support at the net, and rebounds go unpunished. "It takes more than two in this league to win," said R.J. Umberger afterward. No kidding.
  • Officiating - Bad calls galore. The Dorsett no-goal call on Aaron Johnson's goal was sketchy at best. There were some questionable goaltender interference calls. Not a great day for the guys with the whistles.

At the end of the night, there don't appear to be any answers (per Dorsett, "You know, I think if anyone knew the answer they would be a really smart person."). They're putting three fingers into five holes in the dam right now. There just isn't enough to keep the water from pouring in.

"You gotta just keep hammering on the positives," coach Arniel said of his team's confidence level as they sit now at 0-5-1. "Obviously it was a big negative last Saturday [in Dallas], but we responded in the right way and we've gotta try to build off that stuff. You can hang your head and feel sorry for yourself, but nobody else in the league is going to feel sorry for you. You better keep throwing that effort out there. You've gotta keep working like we're working.

"Our work ethic was a lot better," the coach continued. "but we can't be satisfied either. We didn't win the hockey game. ... I think they proved to themselves that if they go out and work that hard and compete like that, that hopefully better days are ahead."

They may be. But, it doesn't get any easier on Friday in Motown, facing the Red Wings.

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