Game 9 Recap: Jackets Banish Ghosts Of Last Season
Last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets went 2-10 in shootouts, and Steve Mason had an 0-7 shootout record.
So, it's understandable that a lot of sphincters tightened around Columbus when you saw the Oilers tie the game and eventually get to a shootout.
The game began on a concerning note, with late breaking news that defenseman Jan Hejda would miss the game with a strained calf muscle, and that Kris Russell would make an unexpected return to the lineup. (The team had stated this morning that Russell was unlikely to play until Saturday against Colorado, despite sending emergency recall Nate Guenin back to Springfield.)
Despite the news, the game began about as well as the Jackets could have hoped for. After a slow start in the first few minutes, the Jackets began turning the heat up on the vistors, Just past the four minute mark, Kyle Wilson would go digging along the boards, winning the battle for the puck, bumping the puck out to Chris Clark, who quickly dished to a waiting Samuel Pahlsson just at the edge of the crease, who put the puck through Devan Dubnyk's 5-hole.
Unfortunately, the Jackets' troubles with penalties would return tonight (though for what it's worth, I found more than a few of the calls rather...questionable...and it seems that many others agreed with me, reading various blogs and Twitterati), and Jared Boll would be the first Jacket in the box tonight, getting called for goalie interference after being knocked into Devan Dubnyk by Theo Peckham. The Jackets' PK cleared the puck several times during the penalty, but in the final 30 seconds of the penalty, Edmonton's Jordan Eberle delivered a pass right through Mark Methot and Rusty Klesla, and Shawn Horcoff was waiting at the edge of the goal crease to tap the puck behind Steve Mason to tie the game.
The Jackets would be given their first power play of the game a few minutes later, but the PP never seemed to be able to find their legs, though there were some strong individual efforts from Jakub Voracek, R.J. Umberger, and Antoine Vermette.
In the dying minutes of the period, however, it would be the fourth line coming up huge again (with a little help from a friend) as Derick Brassard took a feed from Chris Clark, fired at the net, and Kyle Wilson was once again at the perfect spot to clean up a rebound, beating Dubnyk for his second NHL goal in his second NHL game this season.
As the first period ended, the Jackets had 18 to 8 shot advantage, and they seemed to be on the perfect game plan with their 2-1 lead.
Unfortunately, the second period found both teams unable to really settle on the ice, though the officiating continued to have some...unusual moments (such as Derek Dorsett being whistled for goalie interference after having his legs tripped out from under him as he attacked the net on a breakaway), and frightening moments, when Jared Boll was clipped in the face by Theo Peckham's stick and fell to the ice grasping at his eye. (Fortunately, Boll returned to the bench in the third period and is reported tonight as OK.)
Still locked at a 2-1 Jackets lead, the teams went into the third period and much like the Flyers on Monday, the Oilers finally seemed to remember there was a hockey game going on. Despite being outshot 13-8 in the period by the Blue Jackets, it would be Taylor Hall getting his first NHL goal to tie the game at just under the 10 minute mark, redirecting a point shot from Peckham.
Just as the third period was about to expire, Sammy Pahlsson would be shown the door to the box after a bad hit at the boards, and the Blue Jackets would go into the overtime period down a skater.
Surprisingly, however, it would be the Jackets who registered the only shots of the OT (though Antoine Vermette arguably could have been credited with one for the Oil after very nearly scoring an own-goal on Mason), and we would be on to the shootout.
Head Coach Scott Arniel elected to shoot second, so the Oilers would send Sam Gagner over the boards, who would be denied by Mason.
Columbus would give the first shot to Rick Nash, and the captain went right down the middle with a full head of steam and blasted it past Dubnyk's blocker for the 1-0 lead.
Next, it would be former Jacket Gilbert Brule for the Oil, who went wide and hit the post, putting the game in the hands of....Nikita Filatov.
The young Russian had been denied on a breakaway earlier in the game, but he would use the same move in the shootout, faking to his forehand and then flipping it over Dubnyk with the backhander to give the Jackets a 3-2 shootout victory - no doubt a huge confidence builder for the young Russian.
The win over Edmonton gave the Jackets their first 3 game winning streak since November of 2009.
Chris Clark: Again, Chris Clark was a stud for this team, setting up both Pahlsson and Wilson tonight, and a big player on the penalty kill.
Nikita Filatov: Coach Arniel praised Filatov's hard work in the last two games, and it is starting to show - in addition to his game winner in the shootout, Filatov's ice time increased by two minutes tonight, and he saw time on the second PP unit for the first time since the team returned from Sweden. With the team's difficulty in converting with the man advantage of late, don't be surprised if we see him get increased PP time if he continues to contribute.
Steve Mason: Mase really didn't have much chance on the two goals that got past him, but he still turned away 25 shots in regulation and OT before stoning Gagner in the shootout. (The Brule SO attempt was really as much about the shooter missing wide as it was about Mason's performance there.) Another confidence builder for a goaltender who had struggled last year in exactly these type of situations.
Kris Russell: Clearly still not 100%, Russ apparently was so sure he wouldn't be playing tonight that he went for dinner without taking his cell phone! Despite the lack of preparation, he came in and contributed a solid 18 minutes tonight, and 5 shots, including a beauty during the first period that Dubnyk had to make a huge leg save on.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
Power Play: Not counting the 4-on-4 generated by Jim Vandemeer spearing Jared Boll in his family jewels (and the resulting diving penalty assessed to Boll for reasons that I do not even dare to speculate), the Jackets had 7 power plays. Those power plays resulted in 1 shots, 1 nullifying penalty (a high stick), one shorthanded chance for Edmonton, and a whole bunch of tums for CBJ fans. Despite the team's claim that they needed to go back to a more conventional 3-2 arrangement, I think it may be time to return to the 1-3-1 and give Filatov a chance to play with the first or second PP unit more regularly. Something has to spark the team's power play if they want to be a playoff team.
Rusty Klesla: Klesla was caught napping several times tonight, and with the exception of the first Edmonton goal, he got lucky that Steve Mason was able to bail him out. I am sure the team sees his willingness to block shots and kill penalties, but the mistakes continue to pile up. I truly worry about Rusty's ability to play in the Arniel system.
Jake Voracek: Though Jake had some very good board battles, he needs to shoot. He had at least three chances in the first period alone that I think he would have converted on if he'd been willing to shoot instead of passing off.
Physicality, or lack thereof: I'm not saying this team needs to goon it up, but even without the questionable calls from the refs, it felt like the Oilers got away with quite a lot of hacking, whacking, and generally chippy play with no threat of retaliation from the Jackets. A win is a win, but there's something to be said for standing up for yourselves, boys.
I heard the attendance numbers the same as everyone else did - yes, it was another low. Yes, it really sucks. Yes, I am sure that Puck Daddy will find a way to mock the town for it. But on the other hand, they're now 6-3. They're 3rd in the Central and 6th in the West...and only two points out of a divsion lead, at that.
We knew attendance was really going to suck to start this year. I wouldn't start panicking yet. If this team is still solidly above that playoff bar in February, and people still aren't coming? Then we can get concerned. But I suspect that if they're still delivering solid wins into the new year, those seats will find a way to get filled up.
The Jackets announced this evening that they have canceled a planned practice at Nationwide for tomorrow morning and will fly to Colorado to practice at the Pepsi Center on Friday afternoon. The Jackets will take on Colorado on Saturday at 9:00pm EDT.