Game Recap #25: A Volkswagen Victory

If this game was a fish, you'd throw it back. But somehow the Blue Jackets managed an ugly shootout win over the the Panthers, gaining two points in the ledger.

At the end of the 1960's, Volkswagen ran a series of ads featuring pictures of the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and the front of a Volkswagen Beetle. The tag line was "It's ugly, but it gets you there." That line applies to this game in spades, as the Blue Jackets surrendered a three goal lead, allowed more shots than in some wars, and still managed to prevail. Strap in, this is a scary ride.

Period 1: Fast & Loose

Recall the last game, when the Blue Jackets came out with a stilted, stop & go game that resulted in zero shots on goal for the first twelve minutes of the opening period? I'm not sure, but I suspect that Todd Richards may have had a thing or two to say about that, as Columbus came out with speed and fury, moving the pace up and down the ice. One such exchange resulted in an odd-man rush for Florida, which David Savard stymied by a sprawling snow angel. The Blue Jackets took the puck and stormed north once again, working the puck to Nick Foligno low behind Roberto Luongo's left post. Foligno quickly reversed course to the right, and parked a crafty wraparound off a Florida skate and into the back of the net. 1 - 0 Blue Jackets, and just 1:07 had ticked off the clock. Scott Hartnell broke a bit of a slump by earning the primary assist, with Dalton Prout gaining the additional helper.

Just two minutes later, the Blue Jackets were on the power play, but spent too much time attempting fancy entries, instead of simply entering the zone with speed, and the opportunity was squandered. Still, the Blue Jackets put six shots on goal before Florida notched their first. A tripping penalty to Michael Chaput at the 5:27 mark gave Florida a chance to pull even, but Sergei Bobrovsky and the PK unit were easily up to the task. No damage done. Then , just before the halfway mark of the period, Florida attempted to rim the puck around the zone from left to right. Kerby Rychel was having none of it, as he crowded the boards, grabbed the puck, and cleared it to the neutral zone. Cam Atkinson, lurking high in the zone, jumped on the errant puck and the race was on. Cam has had trouble cashing in on these chances of late, but did not miss this night. He zipped one high over Luongo's glove, and the Jackets had a 2 - 0 advantage. Rychel earned the lone assist, and now has a two game scoring streak.

The clubs traded chances for the balance of the period, with a possible odd man situation favoring the Blue Jackets negated by a strange fight between Dalton Prout and Shawn Thornton. Whatever . . . It seemed that the period was going to end calmly, when Florida suddenly got a flurry going down low, generating several point blank chances, and enabling them to ultimately win the shots battle for the first, 13 - 11. However, a calm, cool Bobrovksy nullified every chance, and the period ended without further damage.

A solid start for Columbus, getting double digit shots on Luongo, earning two goals, and looking more confident than they have in weeks. Probably a bit too loose for Todd Richards' taste, but you can't argue with results. Special kudos to Jeff Rimer for a terrific first intermission interview with Bobby Orr, who was hanging out with Nathan Horton in the sparsely populated stands (7,788 was the official tally, but many of them were apparently camouflaged)

Good start, but could they keep the pressure up, and not let down?

Period 2: Relapse

At the beginning of the period, the Blue Jackets gained possession of the puck, moved it into the offensive zone, and cashed in when Boone Jenner tickled the twine just 51 seconds in. Cam Atkinson and Kerby Rychel had the assists, and suddenly the visitors had a 3 - 0 lead. That was apparently the worst possible thing that could have happened.

The last 19:09 of the second period were a House of Horrors for the Blue Jackets. They took four penalties (3 hooking, 1 tripping), with none for Florida. Thus, they spent almost half of the remaining ice time on the PK. However, almost immediately, the skating stopped, the players reacted rather than created, the coaches went into panic mode by switching lines, and the house of cards came tumbling down. At 2:54, Thomas Fleischmann parked a nice slap shot behind Bobrovsky on the odd man rush, with Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad (remember that name) garnering the assists.

Just over two minutes later, the Panthers took advantage of a slow defensive response, and Bjugstad scooted a backhand into the far corner, through a sea of legs and sticks. Fleischmann returned the favor with the primary assist, joined by Aaron Eckblad, and it was a one goal game. Not for long, however, as Bjugstad again cashed in, this time on the power play. On this one, he used his long reach to generate a shot that was half slapper, half wrap-around from low to Bobrovsky's right. It promised to be harmless, except that the puck caromed almost vertically off the skate, zipping over Bobrovsky's right ear and into the net. Tie game, with all three goals scored in less than a five minute interval. Have you heard this one before?

The Blue Jackets mounted absolutely no credible offense after the Jenner goal, as evidenced by the 19 - 3 shot total for the period. Of course, Columbus had to kill three more penalties after the Panthers scored their third goal, which they did deftly, However, the reconstructed lines could not gain consistent possession, and the horrific ice conditions were not conducive to offensive consistency as the period wore on.

In short, it was a stunningly horrific reversal of fortune for Columbus, with the only solace being the fact that the mind-numbingly awful play still resulted only in a tie game. What would the third period possibly hold?

Period 3 & Beyond: A Choppy Standoff & Brilliant Vindication

The Blue Jackets had a better offensive period in the third. They managed four shots on goal, instead of three. Florida? They peppered Sergei Bobrovsky with another 19 pellets, and Bobrovsky stopped them all. The tinkering with the Blue Jackets lines had destroyed any semblance of chemistry by this point, and it showed. In truth, while Florida had some true threats, a lot of the shots were from the perimeter, with clear sight lines to the goal. Perhaps the Panthers were fatigued from all that shooting . . . Florida put four shots on net in the overtime frame, to two for Columbus, with neither side generating any appreciable chances.

The numbers at the end of regulation and OT were truly jaw-dropping. Florida put 55 shots on net, had another 27 blocked by Blue Jackets, and missed the net 17 times. That is 99 attempted shots, compared to just 35 for Columbus. For those keeping score at home, that amounts to an all-situations team Corsi number of just 26.12%. That is astoundingly bad. Only slightly better was the 37% face-off winning percentage they managed to compile. Still, despite the numerical domination, they had managed to salvage at least a point and were just a shootout away from two.

Florida elected to go first, and Jonathan Huberdeau missed wide right. Cam Atkinson was denied by Luongo. In Round 2, Bob stuffed Jussi Jokinen and Luongo made the save on Matt Calvert. Neither Brad Boyes nor Nick Foligno could find the net in the final scheduled round, so the shootout when to extra time. With two goals and an assist already on his card, Nick Bjugstad got the call for Florida, and he almost delivered. He put Bob down with a crafty move, then moved to his right to gain a clear angle. Somehow, Bobrovsky flashed his glove on the same trajectory as the puck, denying Bjugstad in spectacular fashion. Enter Ryan Johansen, who sat on the bench for the entire OT. He came in calmly on Luongo, and just as calmly zipped a high wrister into the back of the net for the game winner. Mission accomplished, but you'll be hard pressed to find an uglier win.

Wrapping It Up

First, Sergei Bobrovsky deserves every accolade he can be provided for this one. A franchise record for saves in a game, a perfect shootout, and really the only reason the Blue Jackets were in this one. The Jenner, Atkinson, Rychel line was terrific . . . until Richards broke them up. Johansen struggled in the face-off circle, but played hard in all three zones. Nick Foligno was an iron man, pulling 22:00 of ice time (compared to only 16:45 for Johansen -- only 12:15 at even strength). Michael Chaput had some solid moments as well. Curiously, Kerby Rychel got only 10:26 of ice time, making his two assists and +2 even more impressive.

The numbers are the numbers, but those are the symptoms, not the disease. I'll have more on this in an article later this weekend, but there is an issue with the psyche of the team that allows such manic depressive swings in performance over such a short time span. Add to that some questionable personnel utilization by the coach, and an evening that started like a dream ended as a nightmare from which you suddenly awaken, with that uneasy sense of relief.

In his post-game comments, Todd Richards appeared to suggest that the Blue Jackets did not take their foot off the gas, but that the issues started by trying to get the fourth goal. First, that was directly contrary to assistant coach Brad Larsen's characterization of the situation from behind the bench during the second period, and really defies the patent logic that the television screen and the statistics showed. Richards admits he doesn't see much of the game on the ice, because he is paying attention to "other things". Perhaps that needs to change, as he is apparently allocating ice time and making key decisions based upon impressions gleaned from incomplete information. The Blue Jackets were a loose, confident bunch in the first, and during the first minute of the second. Then it changed, and the makeshift adjustments appeared to only make the situation worse.

So, while the two points is welcome, there are some things that need to be done with the leadership situation, both for the guys with the skates and the guys with the suits. They escaped this time, but won't have that luxury Saturday against Tampa Bay, who beat Buffalo 5 - 0 tonight. That's when the Blue Jackets will try to make this a three game winning streak. Stay tuned.

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