|Pittsburgh 2 - Columbus 1|
I've come to the conclusion that for at least this season, there are two teams that I'm just not going to get upset over losing to. One is the Boston Bruins. The other is the Pittsburgh Penguins. Those two teams, in my opinion, are odds-on favorites to be playing in the Eastern Conference Finals this spring. They're the best that the East has to offer, and the Blue Jackets aren't close to being the best. So be it.
Thus, the dreaded "style points" come into play. "Moral victories." All that stuff I hate as a fan who just wants to see his @#$R%@#$%^#$!!!! team win a game.
And, for about 52 minutes of gameplay, the Blue Jackets had absolutely nothing over which to get embarrassed. Sure, Evgeni Malkin blasted one past Curtis McElhinney for the first goal and Nick Foligno let one richochet in off him and Sidney Crosby while arguably blanketing Crosby as well as anyone on the team tonight. Malkin and Crosby scored. How is that embarrassing? Honestly, those two goals obscured a very tightly played game by both teams.
As for the balance of the 52 minutes, the CBJ played tough with the depleted Penguins (Brooks Orpik suffering a concussion from the Shawn Thorton thuggery over the weekend; James Neal serving the first of a five-game suspension for his equally offensive thuggery in the same game). The Blue Jackets were hanging in there on faceoffs, holding the puck, getting some shots off (but too many one-and-done attacks). The team was playing solid.
The second goal, however, came at 8:52 of the third. I vividly recall thinking, "This one's over. No way the CBJ are going to get two in nine minutes." The team apparently shared my frustration. The Blue Jackets unraveled, and things got chippy. Derek Mackenzie took a roughing call against Simon Despres. Then Brandon Dubinsky took a whack at Robert Bortuzzo (whomever that is) and got himself a game misconduct. All at 9:10.
From that point until the last minute, when Matt Calvert scored to bring it within one, the Blue Jackets seemed to lurch back into the aimless sloggers that we know all too well. Full credit to Calvert and his assist-mates, Mark Letestu and Ryan Johansen, for not giving up...but it was too little, too late by then.
52 minutes of top-drawer hockey against one of the best teams in the league is nothing to scoff at. But damn, what if it could have been 60? With Dubinsky on the ice during those last nine minutes?
Ah, what could have been.
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I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that the game was broadcast "nationally" by NBC Sports Network. (I use "nationally" loosely as the network isn't even available yet to 32 percent of American television households, let alone subscribed.) That meant a new - to us - set of faces and voices talking about our favorite team here in Central Ohio.
It started off kinda rough. The studio guys clearly had done precious little homework on the Blue Jackets, and I cringed when their first segment on the CBJ that I saw dealt with the Pressing Issue of "Why haven't the CBJ named a captain yet?" Ugh. Really? How about "Why did the CBJ look like a flippin' yo-yo through the month of November?" Or "Why would the team spend all that money on Nathan Horton only to put him on long-term injured reserve?" Or "How could Bob have regressed like he has?" No, no. It was about the captaincy. Blergh.
The next CBJ segment (there were other segments, but most were about the Penguins - a subject with which the NBCSN guys had much more familiarity) was about the emergence of Nick Foligno as a top player on the roster. Gooooood, guys. You looked at the stat sheets and saw that Foligno's been busy recently. Actual homework being done. Much appreciated.
Then onto the game. We got the NBCSN "A-team", Doc Emerick and Pierre McGuire. Eddie Olczyk was probably off with the Blackhawks, but I'd like to think that he was running some youth hockey camp for all those little skaters that he lectures throughout his broadcasts.
The nice thing about a game called by Emerick and McGuire is that they do their homework. Well, Emerick does. He's dropping Columbus Owls references and has at least a passing understanding of the roster. Name pronunciations...not so good...but at least he didn't talk about the Pens and The Other Team.
McGuire doesn't do homework. He's scary. He already knows everything about every hockey player in history, all the way back to the make, model and color of the car in whose backseat any given player was conceived in. But that creepy familiarity works out well on a night like tonight, as he knew enough about the Columbus Blue Jackets to keep this viewer from getting offended.
The only evidence that Emerick and McGuire weren't flush with CBJ info was their repeated assertions that the Blue Jackets were skilled, had energy and enthusiasm. They said this a few times. They also said that the team was fun to watch. While that statement can be true at times, they clearly didn't watch half of the games in November. So I give them points for offering gentle platitudes to the Columbus faithful - and for giving the "national" TV audience a reason to stay tuning in.
All in all, I must say I enjoyed the novelty of seeing the Blue Jackets covered by the NBC guys. I work for FOX Sports Ohio and think the world of the FSO team on a night in-night out basis, but it is fun to see the team through a fresh set of eyes every now and then.
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Next up is tomorrow, a quick turnaround game against JAROMIR JAGR and the New Jersey Devils. 7PM, Nationwide Arena. And the game is on FOX Sports Ohio.
Here's the game recap haiku: