Game Recap #67: Wonderful Weirdness

In an evening that was a mix between <em>One Flew Over The Cuckoo&#39;s Nest</em> and <em>Slap Shot</em>, the Blue Jackets emerged with a 5 - 3 victory over the visiting Detroit Red Wings.

Consider the events of Tuesday:

  • A total eclipse of the sun in Indonesia
  • Bernie Sanders shocking everyone with a victory over Hillary Clinton in Michigan
  • 72 degrees in Columbus, Ohio
  • Two fights and four ejections -- one in handcuffs -- in the stands at Nationwide Arena
  • David Clarkson scored a goal
  • Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard spent almost as much time off the ice (4:19) as Jared Boll did on the ice (5:13)
  • The Blue Jackets dominated the first, built a 4 - 1 lead, then almost squandered it before prevailing 5 -3./

This was one out of The Twilight Zone, so strap in.

Period One: Solid Start
With the memory of the 6 - 0 shellacking in Philadelphia clearly erased from their collective memories, the Blue Jackets came out firing on all cylinders. The Dubinsky -- Atkinson -- Jenner line started, and proceeded to claim the offensive zone for Columbus, putting two solid shots on goal and creating plenty of havoc. That set the tone for the entire period, with the ice notably tilted in the Blue Jackets' favor.
Boone Jenner, singled out by John Tortorella after the game for playing "the way we all want to play", drew a holding the stick penalty by Jonathan Ericsson at the 2:47 mark. The ensuing power play presented some opportunities, and looked more than credible. Unfortunately, no goal resulted. Still, the Blue Jackets maintained the better of the play.
A crack in the armor appeared to manifest itself in the back half of the period, when Fedor Tyutin and Matt Calvert were whistled for boarding infractions at 12:13 and 17:45, respectively. Tyutin's penalty was killed off with a flourish, with Detroit managing nary a shot on goal with the extra man. A similarly sturdy effort was shown for the Calvert penalty, which was abbreviated when Niklas Kronwall was whistled for hooking with 29 seconds left in the period (and 14 left in the power play). While Cam Atkinson was his normal pesky self on the kill, the entire squad maintained a structured presence in the neutral zone and high in the defensive zone, surrendering entries only reluctantly, and seldom with speed. As the penalty progressed, the pressure crept incrementally toward the offensive blue line, changing the effective line of scrimmage.
While the horn came with no scores on either side, the Blue Jackets managed a lopsided 16 - 4 shot advantage. More importantly, they established a psychological beachhead, showing that their embarrassment at the hands of the Flyershad no lingering effects. It seemed only a matter of time before the home team would break through.
Period Two: Resilience
The Blue Jackets started the second with 1:31 remaining on the Kronwall penalty, providing a bit of a jump start to what can be a difficult period for the club. That momentum was accelerated when Luke Glendening went off for trippingSeth Jones just 24 seconds into the period. That provided 1:07 with a two-man advantage. They would need only 11 seconds. Alexander Wennberg won the offensive zone face-off, and the puck worked its way around the horn, then back to Wennberg, who fed David Savard in the center of the ice at the blue line. Savard let fly with a cannonball that beat Jimmy Howard high to the glove side, aided by a high screen provided by Scott Hartnell. Wennberg and Seth Jones garnered the assists, and the hard work of the first was rewarded early in the middle frame.
At this point, Detroit did some line shuffling, kicked the transmission into fifth gear, and started tilting the ice in the opposite direction. It was not a dramatic shift, just one of those incessant pressuring processes for which the Red Wings are famous. Slowly, the shot differential shrunk, more time was spent in the defensive zone, and fewer offensive opportunities presented themselves. A somewhat suspect Rene Bourque cross-checking penalty was killed with cool efficiency, and the balance of the battles occurred at even strength. Despite surrendering territory, the Blue Jackets maintained their structure and showed no signs of panic. Joonas Korpisalo effectively neutralized the shots that came his way, but seemed a bit more hyperactive than usual, surrendering more rebounds and overall looking less confident. The Red Wings will do that to anyone, let alone a very young goalie.
Detroit evened the score at the 10:24 mark, on a beautiful give-and-go play between Gustav Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader. Abdelkader dished the puck to Nyquist as they entered the offensive zone, marked by Seth Jones andRyan Murray. Abdelkader kept driving as Jones stepped up on Nyquist, who then threaded a beautiful pass between Jones' legs to Abdelaker's stick. Murray was a moment late in getting over, and was forced to reach with his stick just as Abdelkader shot. The puck ticked off the top of Murray's stick, and found the high far corner of the net. That's what the Red Wings do, particularly when embroiled in a do-or-die playoff race. Mike Green earned the second helper on the play, and it was a new ball game, as they say.
To their credit, the Blue Jackets took this as a wake-up call, rather than an opportunity to retreat. Their legs found another gear, and the ice began to tilt back in their direction. At the 16:36 mark, the Blue Jackets entered the zone with a slight 3-on-2 advantage, with William Karlsson carrying the puck along the left wall, Calvert to his right and David Clarkson filling the middle. Karlsson took a hit along the boards, with Calvert collecting it as he came in from Howard's right. Howard squared up to him, and Calvert shoveled the puck toward Clarkson at the edge of the crease. Clarkson battled two defenders, found the puck, and backhanded it behind Howard. Calvert and Karlsson had the assists. More importantly, the Blue Jackets regained the lead on the scoreboard and the mental edge heading into the locker room, despite the 11 - 8 shot advantage the Red Wings held for the frame.
Period Three: Medication Time
Once again, the period could not have started any better for the Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets gained possession in the offensive zone, with Cam Atkinson moving high on the right to support the puck and keep it in the zone. He winged around to Dubinsky down low, who circled behind the goal from Howard's left to right. As he emerged on the other side, both defenders jumped toward him, ignoring Boone Jenner, stationed by the opposite post. Dubinsky let loose with a filthy backhand pass across the crease to the waiting Jenner, who nonchalantly deposited the puck in the gaping net. 3 -1 Blue Jackets, free chili for the fans, and assists to Dubinsky and Atkinson. All was right with the world.
At 4:25, Andreas Athanasiou apparently decided to take matters into his own hands, cordially inviting Matt Calvert to drop the gloves. Calvert was not so cordial in his response, pistoning blows and winning a unanimous decision. The intended shift in momentum was not forthcoming. Quite to the contrary, the Blue Jackets continued to skate, and forced the Red Wings into a reprise of their second period penalty trouble. At 7:46, Nyquist was whistled for tripping Dubinsky, and 26 seconds later, Luke Glendening went to the box for hooking against Seth Jones. Again, Columbus found itself with the two-man advantage, and again they would capitalize. At 9:14, Wennberg fed Seth Jones at the blue line in the middle of the ice. Jones let loose with a one-timer, but was foiled by a broken stick. The resulting shot was a change-up that worked its way directly to Cam Atkinson, positioned at the post to Howard's right. Howard, fully committed to a laser point shot from the middle, had no chance to get over, as Atkinson made a deft little backhand deflection high into the far side of the net. Jones and Wennberg had the assists. 4 - 1 Blue Jackets, and the celebration was on. Well, at least for some.
The Red Wings always travel well, and a large presence of sweaters featuring the winged wheel are a normal site at Nationwide (although far less than in the early years). Some of those Detroit loyalists, fueled no doubt by an excess of adult beverage, began to express their displeasure for the proceedings. For some inexplicable reason, the frustration found its focal point in Section 105, where one gentleman was engaged in a heated argument with a local fan seated behind him. When the usher attempted to intervene, the disgruntled Detroit fan suggested that the usher perform a highly improbable physical act. His exit from the premises now guaranteed, he only needed to await the arrival of the more adequately equipped security personnel. While they were en route, a full scale donnybrook erupted on the other side of the section, featuring roundhouse blows and a nice body check by one of the Columbus PD that effectively neutralized one of the combatants. When the dust settled, four were hauled out, one in handcuffs. You have to love the passion, and it only fueled the ardor of the 14,234 in attendance, who sounded like a sellout crowd. My ears were ringing for several minutes after exiting the arena. Well done, Columbus.
Back to the ice, where the insanity was just about to begin. Instead of calmly playing out the period, enjoying the three-goal cushion, Columbus decided to make things interesting. Dalton Prout was whistled for roughing at 10:44. While the penalty was killed, it provided unnecessary momentum and zone presence to Detroit, and forced more energy to be expended on the PK. At 14:20, Fedor Tyutin earned his second penalty of the evening, a hooking call against Darren Helm. 40 seconds in to the power play, Detroit pulled Howard from the net, creating a 6-on-4 advantage. Cam Atkinson secured the puck shortly thereafter, but incredibly whiffed on the empty netter. Given a second life, Detroit capitalized. With Tomas Holmstrom now retired, it took a few bodies to equal his screening effect on Korpisalo, but with the extra men, the task was completed. Pavel Datsyuk won the face-off, drew the puck back to Green, who fed it to Tomas Tatar. Tatar advanced into the circle to Korpisalo's left, leveraged the screens, and zipped one off the far post and into the net. The gap was now two, but no cause for concern. Right? Right?
Well, it took all of 46 seconds to get the answer. Once they secured the puck, the Red Wings again pulled Howard, creating a 6-on-5 advantage. Mike Green grabbed the puck and skated hard to his left. As he approached the edge of the circle, he fired the puck on net. While Korpisalo was square to the shooter, Athanasiou was between Korpisalo and the puck. Athanasioiu managed to get a blade on it, deflecting it through the five hole and into the far side of the net. Now, it was a one goal game, with 3:30 left. If you were watching or listening, and claim that you were not thinking about the third period of the opening night game against the Rangers . . .you lie. Anxiety reached manic proportions moments later, when a Red Wings shot skipped off David Savard's stick, Korpisalo's arm, and the crossbar. Gulp.
Through all of this Korpisalo was impressive, if a bit jittery. He faced 20 shots in the period -- more than he faced in the first two combined. He was sound in his positions and made some sterling saves that kept the game from spiraling out of control. Although the last few minutes were agonizingly slow, and featured mutual double minors for roughing against Nick Foligno and Darrem Helm. Karma allowed Atkinson to vindicate himself with an empty-netter at the 19:42 mark, with assists from Dubinsky and Jenner. Breathing returned as the medication kicked in. No further fisticuffs were observed --either on the ice or in the stands.
This was a wild evening at Nationwide, and even this summary can't adequately portray the nutty atmosphere. It featured some exquisite play by the Blue Jackets -- and some scrambling play. But they found both their legs and their composure, and got the job done. Tortorella obviously found the matchup he wanted with the Dubinsky line, as they accounted for 14 of the club's 32 shots. But this was a team effort, with guys contributing in lots of ways, even if they did not appear on the scoresheet. Wennberg was positionally solid and a force in all three zones. Foligno made some key plays, and Clarkson showed that he can contribute when paired with some players with ability. Korpisalo remained solid as ever.
So, it was a good win on a crazy evening in Columbus. A great way to begin a five-game homestead, particularly when the Penguins come in on Friday night. That should be a barn burner, as usual. In the meantime, watch out for strange phenomena . . . like plagues of locusts or similar. Stay tuned.

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