Game Recap #27: Blue Jackets 3 Edmonton 1
The Blue Jackets made their debut at Edmonton's new arena — Rogers Place. Could they keep the string alive? You betcha.
The Blue Jackets welcomed Nick Foligno back into the lineup after missing two games due to the flu, but it was the Blue Jackets who looked like they were under the weather in the first period of this one. Edmonton did not dominate the period, but they were clearly a step ahead of the sleepy Jackets, who acted like they were having trouble adjusting to the time difference. Shots for the period were 11 - 5 in favor of the Oilers, and the Blue Jackets had more penalty minutes (6) than shots. To be fair, however, four of those minutes were incurred in a late erroneously called double minor for high sticking. Jack Johnson was the alleged offender, though the penalty was originally called on Alexander Wennberg, who was nowhere in the vicinity. The fact of the matter was that Connor McDavid was the victim of his own player's stick. Despite urgent protests, the call stood, and the Blue Jackets would start the 2nd a man down for almost four minutes.
Edmonton registered the lone goal of the frame, when Tyler Pitlick tucked home a puck bouncing in the crease, with former Jacket Mark Letestu gaining the primary assist. Simply a case of the Blue Jackets being an eyelash too slow. That would need to improve in the final forty minutes. The Blue Jackets did dodge a bullet late, when an apparent Oilers goal was waved off for goaltender interference. That was perhaps a wake-up call, as Columbus had a stern task ahead of it.
Misfortune can either be used as an excuse, or as motivation, and the Blue Jackets chose the latter. They came out much more alert and responsive in the second, and quickly frustrated the first half of the Edmonton man advantage. As the three minute mark passed, Matt Calvert broke his stick, effectively making the power play a 5-on-3.5. Enter Sergei Bobrovsky, who registered three consecutive highlight-reel saves on what appeared to be certain Edmonton tallies. That fired up the Blue Jackets, who assumed the possession advantage. Ignore the stat sheet that shows Edmonton with a 15 - 12 advantage for the period —- at least seven of those were on the four minute power play. The Blue Jackets returned to their style of hockey — cycling the puck low and creating opportunities.
At the 7:23 mark, Josh Anderson drew a "tripping light" penalty against Leon Draisaitl, likely in partial repayment for the erroneous high sticking call. It took 36 seconds for the Blue Jackets to convert, with Alexander Wennberg's laser caroming of Sam Gagner's foot and past Cam Talbot. No distinct kicking motion, and Zach Werenski picked up the second assist. The Blue Jackets kept the pedal to the metal, and drew another power play a few minutes later, but they could not convert. Still, as the clubs went to the locker room after 40, it was a much different attitude than after the first.
Now, stop me if you've heard this, but the Blue Jackets have shown a delightful tendency to take control of games in the third period, even when their first two stanzas may have been sub-par. So it was again on this night. Perhaps not the four-goal fireworks displayed against the Islanders, but just as effective. The Blue Jackets notched the first nine shots on goal during the period, which culminated in a Cam Atkinson power play goal, from his "sweet spot" low on the left. Gagner and Wennberg (of course) registered the assists, and the Blue Jackets had the lead.
A one goal lead is uncomfortable under the best of circumstances, let alone when your facing a team seemingly teeming with #1 overall picks. But the Blue Jackets are not interested in reputation — they focus solely on creating opportunity on the ice. Just 1:36 after Atkinson's goal, Josh Anderson made a great play at the right point to keep the puck in the zone, batting it toward Matt Calvert. Calvert took the puck and drove straight in on Talbot, beating him on the short side. Anderson had the only assist, and the final margin of victory was established.
Edmonton's shots in the third all came after the two goal lead was established, as they put the pressure on. A Ryan Murray hooking penalty did not help matters, but it was killed with dispatch. The Oilers predictably pulled Talbot, which got them some looks, but Bob was up to the challenge — as usual. When Ryan Nugget-Hopkins tripped Wennberg at 18:58, it was all over but the shouting.
So, 27 games into the season, the Blue Jackets are 18 - 5 - 4, with 40 points. Just a .500 record from here on out gives them a franchise record 95 points. Make no mistake, they will in no way be satisfied with that, but that's the position they have earned through their play. Nothing fazes these guys, and they are able to find their game when it might be missing. You can quibble over being bad in the face-off circle (losing 64% of the draws), and taking too many penalties, but they are doing what they need to do to win. Fine by me. Calgary Friday — stay tuned.