Saturday, February 5, 2011
Game 51/Detroit: My Take
A couple immediate thoughts on this game:
First, I suggest you go back and look at Gallos' terrific post about meaningless games. Then try to tell me that this game did not have a very striking resemblance to the 8-2 CBJ pasting of the Wings that Detroit coach Mike Babcock used to such great effect in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs first round. (Now, just imagine if the CBJ can put together a string of wins to get themselves back in the playoff picture to the point that they would play Detroit again. Wouldn't THAT be something?)
Beyond that, I recall reading somewhere online that the Blue Jackets tend to play better when coach Scott Arniel and his staff have had a chance to actually conduct a couple of practices and re-instill the fundamentals of his puck-possession system. Well, the CBJ haven't played since Tuesday's game against Chicago, so they got two solid practices in...and then look like a competent NHL team against one of the best teams in the league. Maybe there's something to this "practice makes perfect" thing.
Anyway, on the game itself: The goaltending by Steve Mason was very, very good. I believe the term is that he played within himself - minimizing the jaw-dropping saves and instead focusing more on positioning and technique. This was the Calder trophy-winning Mason again, if only for a night, and it was really good to see. Perhaps he should send a fruit basket to whomever leaked to TSN's Darren Dreger (the Feb. 3, 12:37 installment) that he was potentially getting shopped around...whatever it takes for motivation, I guess.
As I've contended for a while now, Mason's success is not his alone. It also helps to have a collection of blue liners that doesn't have to be good but instead just avoids being bad. When his head's in the game, like it was tonight, Mason doesn't need a cadre of NHL All-Star defensemen in front of him. He just needs players to play like professionals. And that's what he got against the Wings. (But this crew still needs to figure out how to bury their breakaways - Stralman and Russell particularly.)
Lastly, the forwards kept the Red Wings pinned back in their zone for much of the night. Arniel credited the team's "grinders" for their incredible performance after the game, and rightfully so. The goals from Boll and Murray were symbolic of the gutty performance that the bottom half of the roster put in.
On the flip side, Arniel healthy scratched Kristian Huselius in favor of rookie Matt Calvert. Calvert only responded with yet another dynamic performance, grabbing an assist and a +1 rating in just over 13 minutes of ice time. One can only wonder what the team's second-highest paid player was thinking from the press box as a kid making one-fifth of his salary took his spot on the roster. Hopefully this will spur Juice to re-engage in the game. I recognize that he's still playing hurt (a Fox Sports pregame camera a couple games back showed him fitting his knee brace), but he still needs to drop a goal in every now and then. That's what $4.75 million players do, even when they're dinged up.
It was really quite a game. And it could be an aberration. Or it could be the start of something big. Let's hope it was the latter.
NEXT UP: The Blue Jackets host the Edmonton Oilers at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night. It'll be a big night in the DBJ family, as my nephew will be concluding a day-long travel hockey excursion into Columbus (highlighted in part by playing a game on the Nationwide main ice that afternoon) by Carrying The Flag before the game and then watching his hero, Rick Nash, take on Taylor Hall and the kids from Alberta.