|New Jersey 5 - Columbus 2|
As odious as the first period was (and we will not speak of the first period again), the second and third period were much better. In fact, the Marian Gaborik goal at 11:42 of the second period appeared to break the stranglehold that the Devils had on the game. The penalty train largely had stopped, the team's legs appeared to get closer to pre-Olympic form and the defensemen...well, the defensemen woke up.
That is, until Adam Henrique scored on a shorty at the 19:41 point of the second period. Yet. Another. Last. Minute. Goal. Given. Up. (And Jack Johnson was undressed on the goal.)
So it then was 4-2, Devils, going into the third. Pete DeBoer had his boys lock it down, forcing Todd Richards to go to an empty net with three minutes left. That was pointless, as the CBJ didn't register a single shot on goal with the 6-on-5 advantage. The icing on the cake was the Devils' empty net goal.
So there ya go. The proverbial 4-point game goes the other way, and the Blue Jackets let the Devils back into serious contention in the Metropolitan Division. Both teams now have 63 points (joined by Washington at 63), trailing Philadelphia (66 points) and the Rangers (69). Forget the Penguins, nobody's going to challenge them. Seventh place Carolina is only two points behind at 61.
The Blue Jackets need to get it in gear yesterday, lest they risk another six months of annoying "brick by brick" platitudes between holes of golf.
- - - - -
Jarmo Kekalainen must get at least one more legitimate defensive starter before the deadline if he's serious about making a playoff run. The Olympic injury to Fedor Tyutin exposed the Blue Jackets for their lack of quality depth at the blue line, further exacerbated by the comparatively poor play this season from Dalton Prout. I won't even start on Jack Johnson's breakdowns.
Jarmo's got some assets, largely forwards, to play with as he hopefully scours the league for a defenseman. I'd prefer that he avoid a rental, seeing as the Blue Jackets need to build a playoff competitive team before running out to the store for spare parts. The Jackets are better, granted, than the high school squad that Doug Maclean left for Scott Howson...and better than the AHL squad that Howson left for Kekalainen. But they're not playoff competitive. They're playoff desperate.
And if nothing comes to pass as of the trade deadline at three in the afternoon on Wednesday? Start lighting candles and making offerings to Hockey Jobu.
- - - - -
A possible piece of trade bait is Marian Gaborik. At $7.5 million, Gaborik is a pricey bauble. He clearly still has skill, as evidenced by his contributions to the team tonight. At the same time, his injury history is lengthy and he's already missed 39 games this season. Gaborik is a huge presence, one that a coach has to build a team around. But how do you build your team around a player whom you can't reasonably presume will be on the ice for any stretch of time? I say let him shine for the next three games, get the best possible exchange for him (preferably a defenseman) and move on. The Blue Jackets have shown that they can win - and win a lot - without Gaborik. Might as well move beyond him.
This doesn't excite me to say. Gaborik comes across as a likeable guy. He appears to like Columbus and the Blue Jackets. When healthy, he's a treat to watch and a threat to score at any moment. But hey, business is business. And if this team is going to earn their reported ticket price increase, they have to make moves. Status quo isn't going to cut it.
That said, I don't expect Gaborik (or any Blue Jacket) to move at the deadline. The NHL is filled with enough executives who are entirely too risk averse (read: scared) to do anything at the deadline. Kekalainen's proven that he's willing to wheel and deal if the deal is fair to both sides, but most NHL GM's will only trade their third-round draft pick if they get Sidney Crosby in return.
- - - - -
Next up, the Florida Panthers at 2PM on Saturday at Nationwide.
SportsClubStats now has the CBJ at 45% likely to make the playoffs (down from 52% at the end of the Olympics), and the team probably has to hit 91 points to get over the 50 percent threshold for the playoffs. That's 13-8-2 or 12-7-4 between now and game 82.
Considering what we saw tonight, that makes Saturday's game...and every game following...a must-win. Simple enough, right?