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Game Recap #30: Red Wing . . .The Other White Meat

The Blue Jackets took their six game winning streak into The Joe on Tuesday night, hoping to find Lucky Seven. They did so in spades (keeping the metaphor working), playing their most complete game of the season in an extremely hard-fought 1 – 0 shootout victory that tested the cardiac health of every fan in Central Ohio. Here’s how it went down.

Period One: Familiar Jousting

The initial frame was what you might expect from a Columbus – Detroit contest. Relatively tight play through the neutral zone, with little quarter given to either side. Early on, the Blue Jackets were guilty of being mesmerized by the Detroit possession and flow game. That period of spectating resulted in a couple of decent chances, which Sergei Bobrovsky negated. The Blue Jackets then woke up, and started to move the puck with pace. Newly acquired Jeremy Morin seemed to fit right in, and showed good hockey sense, some speed and a shot on goal. Jack Skille was very visible, and Jack Johnson was playing with a lot of speed for the fans in his home state. In his return after missing thirteen games, Fedor Tyutin looked solid.

The Blue Jackets received the only power play for the period, which was stymied by the Detroit penalty kill unit. However, Columbus played smart hockey by staying out of the box, and were very responsible defensively. They communicated well on the ice, provided support and were appropriately aggressive on the forecheck, without over-committing.

Detroit had a 7 – 6 edge in shots for the period, and a 7 – 5 advantage in the face-off circle, reflective of the tight quarters provided on the ice. (Speaking of tight quarters, the most amusing image from the TV broadcast was Jody Shelley being wedged into the narrow (17.5″) gap between the two benches.) Oh yeah, the Blue Jackets led in hits (19-5). Yawn . . . , the Blue Jackets’ mission was to gain more possession time, work the puck from low to high, and keep the responsible defensive play in effect.

Entering the second period, the Blue Jackets’ task was to keep the defensively responsible play going, while increasing the possession time in the offensive zone, getting the low-to-high game working, and bothering Jimmy Howard’s sight lines.

Period 2: Different Pace, Same Result

After an excruciating tight opening period, the two clubs came out of the locker room as if they wanted to tally 30 shots on goal . . .each . . . in this period. Brandon Dubinsky had a laser heading high glove just 13 seconds in, but Howard snagged it to deny the opportunity. The Red Wings then came down the ice and put four shots on goal in sequence, the last being a point blank opportunity from a totally unchecked Justin Abdelkader. Bobrovsky negated that chance with a beautiful blocker save. Shortly after that, Columbus came down the four abreast with speed. After the initial shot was blocked, Jeremy Morin took the puck below the net, faked a wrap-around move, stepped to his left, and zipped a backhand pass to Nick Foligno in the high slot. Foligno zinged one . . .off the goalpost. And so it went, for each team.

The Blue Jackets got another power play opportunity at the 10:36 mark, which provided more chances, but still no scoring. Immediately thereafter, Ryan Johansen was tagged with a phantom hooking call.. Detroit did what they are known for — maintain possession for extended periods of time, and create chances. Once such chance right in front of the net was denied by Bobrovsky in a magnificent save. No further damage was done. The Blue Jackets got one more chance with the extra man as the period wound down, and made some noise, but could not score. They would start the third with 24 seconds remaining on the power play.Shots were 14-12 for Detroit for the period — precisely double each team’s output in the first. Face-offs stood at 17 – 12 after two. No, I will not tell you what the hits numbers were.

Through two periods, this was a well-played hockey game for both sides. It seemed increasingly likely that the smallest of miscues would dictate the final outcome here. Who would take advantage of that opportunity?

Period Three . . .and Beyond: Play It Again, Sergei

As good as the first two periods were in terms of quality of hockey, stunning saves and excruciating tension, the third was better. There were zero goals, zero penalties. Just twenty minutes of solid, shifting play that kept your eyes fixed on the screen, and the hands gripping the armrests.

This period was not as tight as the first, not as loose as the second. Much of the critical play occurred within a few feet of the respective blue lines, as neither club was giving up easy entries into the offensive zone. The pucks were pressured ferociously along the boards, and neither goalie surrendered any meaningful second chances. Detroit had their best chance of the period at the 17:17 mark, when a rare defensive zone turnover created an opportunity to Bobrovsky’s left. However, he made an unreal save to preserve the tie, and from that point the Blue Jackets really had the better of the play and the opportunities. Jimmy Howard, however, was simply unreal. He stifled Nick Foligno, Matt Calvert and Boone Jenner on separate opportunities, then caught a break when James Wisniewski inexplicably missed a wide open net from low to Howard’s left. That left Wisniewski disconsolately holding his head in his hands on the bench, while he received some reassuring stick taps from his teammates. However, if you weren’t fearing that the Hockey Gods were against us on this night at that point . . . well, you’re lying.

Columbus won the shot battle in the third, 10 – 7, marking the first time in recent memory that they put back-to-back periods together with double-digit shots, They also ended up winning the face-off battle 29 – 26 — another indication that the club was growing stronger as the game went on.

Overtime is always a concern with the Red Wings, as the last thing they need is additional space in which to operate. However, the mini-period was simply a microcosm of the rest of the game. Detroit had a couple of early chances, then the Blue Jackets took control. The Red Wings ended up with a 2 – 1 shot advantage, but the frame was truly a stand-off. Coach Todd Richards vented a bit of anger as the officials simply allowed the OT to run out while Howard cradled a shot from the point by Foligno with about 5 seconds left, denying the Blue Jackets a face-off to Howard’s right. No matter.

On the one hand, the shootout promised to be a lengthy affair, given the performance by the two goalies in the course of regulation. On the other hand, when you’re facing three guys named Pavel Datsyuk, Gustav Nyquist and Henrik Zetterberg, you don’t necessarily have a warm fuzzy feeling inside . . .no matter who you have in net. But this team appears not to care about reputation.

As polite hosts, Detroit allowed Columbus to take the first shot. Cam Atkinson came in with speed, but made a too-predictable backhand-forehand move that Howard easily stuffed. The Red Wings led off with Datsyuk, who put a double-delayed backhand move on Bobrovsky before roofing the puck over the sprawled net minder. Round 1 to Detroit.

Ryan Johansen was up next, and he came in with his smooth motion, slowly seeming to glide to a stop. He appeared to be making the same forehand-backhand-forehand move that had undressed Thomas Greiss last game. Howard thought so as well, as he moved to the backhand side, then reached back for the upcoming forehand. Except it never came. Johansen simply parked the backhand upstairs, for another filthy shootout marker. Nyquist was next up for Detroit, and he also slowed, but elected to fire a snapper to Bobrovsky’s glove side. He tried to cut it too fine, however, and the shot rang off the post. Round 2 to Columbus.

Boone Jenner was the anchor man for the Blue Jackets, and he did not disappoint. He came in with speed, measured Howard , then roofed a forehand over Howard’s right arm. 2 – 1 Blue Jackets, with Henrik Zetterberg taking the puck at center ice. He skated in on Bobrovsky, faked a slap shot, then quickly moved to his left. Bobrovsky beat him there, however, and the pad save secured the victory and the shutout. Lucky 7 was theirs.

A Team Victory

This one was truly about 19 guys playing their hearts out, and everybody contributed. Cam Atkinson was insane in all three zones. Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner & Nick Foligno . . . of course. Ryan Johansen may have played the best game he has ever played without taking a shot — simply by consuming attention, moving the puck, and being responsible for the full length of the ice. Brian Gibbons, Jack Skille, Matt Calvert and Jeremy Morin were all solid contributors all night long. Even the fourth line had some solid shifts.

This was without a doubt the best defensive game of the season. The Blue Jackets seemed to embrace the return of Fedor Tyutin to the fold, and he was a solid as ever. Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski also played terrific games. Not error-free, mind you, but every mistake was more than atoned for by some significant play elsewhere on the ice. Dalton Prout played one of his best games, and David Savard was reliable and sure. That about everybody? No?

Oh, of course. Bob. It always comes back to Sergei Bobrovsky, who was simply stellar. In his post-game remarks, Todd Richards demurred to the suggestion that Bob was “outstanding”, noting that he was “good”, but would have to look at the film. Sorry, Todd, that’s just not credible. I don’t care how much you watched or did not watch the game, Bob was flawless. He had a great effort in front of him, with a club that almost had a rare case of outshooting the opposition (Detroit held a 30-29 final edge), but he deserved his First Star.

If you wanted to find any fault with this one, it was that the forward lines just do not seem to have much chemistry. The Atkinson — Dubinsky — Calvert line is a carry-over from last year, but the others had trouble getting in sync. Part of this was due to Detroit’s stingy defense, of course, but there were also lots of times where the lines simply were not on the same page. With all due respect, Todd Richards needs to abdicate the throne of The Great Tinkerer and revert to some more tried and true combinations, such as putting Johansen and Foligno back together. Still, that’s a nitpick, and it shouldn’t detract from a great, great win.

As a consequence of the win, combined with a Philadelphia loss, the Blue Jackets climbed over both the Flyers and the New Jersey Devils, into fifth place in the Metro. With 28 points, Columbus now sits just 2 games below .500 and five points behind Washington, who lost to Florida in a marathon shootout. With New York leading Calgary 4 – 1 as this goes up, it is likely that Columbus will sit six points out of the third place slot — and the automatic playoff berth — when the dust settled for the evening. Not bad for a club that was getting last rites just a couple of weeks ago, eh?

This was a big win folks, and one that everyone — players, coaches, fans — can be proud of The Blue Jackets put together a total team effort and beat a top club playing in top form in their barn. It doesn’t get much better than that. The Capitals are up next at Nationwide on Thursday. Let’s continue the December To Remember. Stay tuned.