Call it whatever you want - a "statement" game, a "bell-weather" game, an "Oh My God, We Have to Play on a FRIDAY" game. There was no disputing that it was a big game.
And while there are no such things as moral victories, I gotta tell you folks that I am pretty impressed with the Blue Jackets from last night. If you had told me after the gut-wrenching home opening loss to the Chicago Blackhawks that the Blue Jackets were going to be not just playing for first in the West at the quarter pole but also largely playing stride for stride with the Stanley Cup-contending (favorite?) Detroit Red Wings, I'd GLADLY take that.
By and large, the Blue Jackets played with poise and did not embarrass themselves. (Yeah, I know, the bar is high.) They played Detroit to a stalemate for the first 33 minutes, but Jan Hejda tried to push the Arniel/Boughner puck possession offense up the ice a little too far, didn't have the skill to beat the Detroit trap, and...
For Blue Jackets teams of old, that could have been a back breaker. This team, however, hung in there and, after giving up another Detroit goal, brought the game back to a one-goal deficit. They didn't quit. What a nice sign of team maturity.
And while Jimmy Howard played something close to the game of his life in holding back the Blue Jackets, Steve Mason was no slouch at all. Our young goalie appears to be playing pretty well. Games like this add thickness to his steel. To take the best that the Red Wings had to offer in a legitimate Big Game and not crack...that's big. It'll help in tomorrow's rematch, and it'll help down the road.
One thing that I noticed in the wake of the game, however, is Detroit's constant gamesmanship. Those guys never stop looking forward. Take this line of crap delivered after the game by their coach, Mike Babcock, in anticipation of Sunday's game:
"I thought Howie was good and Mason was good," Babcock said. "I thought both goaltenders were good. Howie had to be. We were shorthanded so often tonight it wasn't even funny.
"I thought the penalties we got we deserved, but it looked like a rodeo out there lots of times in front of their net, too. So it's amazing to me we weren't on the power play more."Scott Arniel needs to take copious notes from Babcock. You think the refs aren't going to remember this? Watch the penalties fly in the next game. Holmstrom is going to have more easy looks at Mason...I'm just saying...
Lastly, let's give captain Rick Nash some credit for his developing maturity as a leader, too. Just last season, I'm not sure that Nasher would've been caught dead saying this:
“I think the guys on our power play have got to be a bit better,” Rick Nash said. “(Assistant Bob Boughner) sets us up and we knew what they were going to do. We just didn’t execute. Back to work tomorrow.”Nash is right. 0-for-5 on the power play is not good, and the CBJ power play hasn't been good for a while. Nash recognizes that the special teams impotence is holding the team back, so he's turning up the temperature. Good for him. (Now, can he get another hattie tomorrow?)
Yeah, it was a loss. And no loss is a good loss. (But in hockey, a loss in overtime doesn't hurt so much.) But I just have a hard time feeling lousy about last night's loss, especially considering the growth of this team over the course of the season. It bodes well for us as the season progresses.
NEXT UP: The back-to-back mini-series with Detroit concludes at Joe Louis Arena. Remember, the game starts at 5PM.