Sunday, November 28, 2010

Game 22/Detroit: My Take

The Columbus Blue Jackets traveled to Joe Louis Arena to salvage half of a home-and home weekend series with the Detroit Red Wings and left empty-handed in a 4-2 loss.

After taking a 1-0 lead on a Derick Brassard tip-in at the end of the first period, the CBJ gave up two goals in 14 seconds in the middle of the second period.  Clearly rattled but still determined, the Jackets mustered the necessary competitive effort to compete with the (in my opinion) prohibitive Stanley Cup favorites until the start of the third period, when Valtteri Filppula took advantage of a Steve Mason rebound that had zero defensive back-side assistance and flipped one in the back of the net to make it 3-1.  The game appeared over until late in the third when the second power play unit (in a desperation empty-net configuration comprised of Umberger, Vermette, Brassard, Voracek, Russell and MacKenzie) finally slipped one past the Red Wings' penalty kill  to make it 3-2 with 1:30 to go.




It ended up being too little, too late, with the Wings dropping an empty netter in to end the game.

One of the downsides of actually being able to watch the vast majority of the game when it's a loss is that it  allows me the opportunity to gauge the demonstrable mindset of the two teams and, when a game starts as a virtual stalemate, to identify the moment when the game swung out of control.  (Gee, why I can't a get a rousing home win to have nearly three solid hours in front of the TV?  Did it have to be this game?)
The mindset of the Red Wings was pure determination.  Surely having the last line change helped, but whatever smoke that Brian Rafalski was blowing up the Fox Sports Detroit reporter's rear about not respecting the new-look CBJ as opposed to prior years...well, it was a line of crap.  That was a team that was loaded for bear.  They wanted to take Columbus out of its game and demonstrate (once again) that they had our number.  The Red Wings have a way of doing that when the Blue Jackets start getting plucky and plumb the higher levels of the Western Conference standings, and they did it again tonight (H/T to the Dispatch's Tom Reed for crystallizing that thought).

The Jackets, to me had this appearance of mild confidence - or at least the feeling of equality/legitimacy/worthiness through the first, fading as the game went on until the Moment of No Return, the Filppula double-minor at 8:11 of the third that gave the CBJ a 5-on-3 for two full minutes of the four minutes of power play time...and resulted in a whopping one shot on goal.  That was soul-crushing.  All the problems in the Blue Jackets power play were laid bare by the Red Wings for all to see, and the CBJ more or less went into their shell.  (The Fox Sports Ohio guys did, too, in starting to talk up the new third jerseys as if their use in this game was some moral victory.  Lipstick on a pig, gents...)

When the chips were down, who pulled through for the CBJ?
R.J. Umberger.  You shouldn't be surprised.
(Flickr photo by Dannielle Browne)
Again noting that no loss is a good loss (at least in regulation), the late-game power play goal - first attributed to Vermette, then given to Umberger - was a taste of hope in the midst of another depressing trip to the Joe.  Consider that the CBJ were 1 for 12 on their power play against the Red Wings...this was the only power play goal they got during the two games, and they had plenty of opportunities.  Then consider that the team had already seen the life sucked out of it when they went down 3-1 and then couldn't convert that 4-minute double minor (2 minutes of which was 5-on-3 in the CBJ's favor).  That they salvaged a small measure of pride in not completely giving up against the Red Wings tells me that, on some deep level, they won't accept giving up.  It should surprise no one that said statement was made by two of the CBJ's most gritty offensive players, Umberger and Vermette.

Now let's talk about the goalies.  While I'm sure that Jimmy Howard will get the standard over-the-top accolades that Detroit lavishes on its hockey gods (Let's just put 'em all in the Hall of Fame and be over with it already, whaddya say?), I submit that he was not even given the opportunity to show that he was a good goalie tonight.  The Detroit defense (not to mention their forwards that play genuine two-way hockey) was so stifling that I probably could count the number of good shots on Howard on one hand.  And no, shots from the blue line into Howard's chest do not count as good shots.  It's not that Columbus couldn't solve Howard...it's that Columbus couldn't get a decent shot off against the Detroit D.

Steve Mason, on the other hand, played a pretty impressive game in my book.  For whatever reason, the Columbus defense was often way out of position against the Wings, leaving Mason to fend for himself against 41 GOOD shots.

Look at the third Detroit goal for proof, and note where Jan Hejda (35) and Anton Stralman (6) are at 0:07 of this clip.  Better yet, here's the still of that moment:

Video still taken from NHL.com, reprinted under the Fair Use clause.  
By my review, both defensemen are to Mason's left.  Even though Mason made the initial save, Jan Hejda is behind the goal after helping on the initial rush yet now is functionally out of the play.  Stralman is wandering back into the play from somewhere over in Dearborn or Romulus.  There are two Red Wings behind the net (from the first rush) and a totally uncovered Filppula to drive it home from Mason's left.  Mason still was recovering from his first save on Bertuzzi's shot from his far right.  He had no help.  Might as well have been an empty net.

If the Blue Jackets are going to hang Mason out to dry like that for a goal or two every night, and they can't run a power play in a manner that would be considered competent by my nephew's AA mite team's standards, then the few (if any) teams that play up to Detroit's level will have their way with Columbus.  

While I was somewhat optimistic about the CBJ after Friday's game, I'd be tempted to be just as pessimistic about tonight's game if not for that last CBJ power play goal.  That alone reminded me that this Columbus Blue Jackets team is not a bad team.  They may have had a tough night against perhaps the best team in the league - one who was clearly looking to put the CBJ in their place - but they're not going to quit, and they're still going to win a lot of games.

The team has actually performed well in this eight-game stretch thus far, with 4 wins and 2 losses since game 16.  That means that one win against either Nashville or Buffalo would give Columbus 10 points on this third segment of the season.  Wins in both games will deposit an extra two points in the bank against what I consider playoff pace.  

Fix the power play, straighten out the defense to give Mason some support, and we'll be in great shape.  Easy, right?

NEXT UP: The Nashville Predators return to town on Wednesday night at 7:00PM.  I'm not going down the "should win" or "must win" road on this one, but the Blue Jackets need to win on Wednesday to stop the emotional bleeding, regain their confidence and get back on the playoff pace.  

Scott Arniel and his staff can not, under any circumstances, let this team backslide into a slump.  They're still too fragile, still trying to figure out how to win as a team, and any early-season slump could send them reeling for weeks.  I'm still optimistic that this team has the resilience to come back from this disheartening weekend, but I can't promise to lay off the Tums until after the CBJ win on Wednesday.  

2 comments:

  1. I feel the same way about the teams confidence. I was applauding the Jackets until those 2 goals, and even then they didn't seem daunted. Not until I saw how horrendous our PP was, I lost hope. After that 5 on 3, *I* felt defeated. Not a good game.

    They'll bounce back, though. And even if we lost these two, we're still sitting comfortably in 4th place. Not bad. Things are still looking up.

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  2. DBJ -
    Good post. A couple of comments. After Friday's game I was pretty down. I decided to drink the Kool Aid after the Nashville win, so was all in for that game, so didn't feel good after that first loss. I don't mind losing to the Redwings, as they are a darn good time playing very well now. Their fans are complete toads, and enduring that is trying to the soul. Fortunately, Tress put the beat down on Rich Rod on Saturday, so my soul was feeling better. Point to this is that if we can't beat two teams, say Detroit and Colorado, but we by and large stick it to the other teams, and feast in the east, we'll be in the playoffs, and then we'll see. The great start means they have some cushion for absorbing these, as the CBJ join the rest of the pack with 2 consecutive losses. And the Wings are heading out on the Western swing. Should be interesting to see how that goes.
    gallos

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