Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Game 53/Pittsburgh: My Take

The Columbus Blue Jackets paid their first regular season visit to the shiny new CONSOL Energy Center and didn't bother to wipe their feet with a 4-1 victory over the host Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pens fans will suggest that their missing superstar players, Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (knee), played a major factor in the loss.  It's possible.  But the rest of the NHL doesn't care, nor did they tie up $17.4 million in cap space on two players like Ray Shero did.  Losing both of these players at the same time is armegeddon for Pittsburgh, and that's sad for the Pens because the rest of the league has a stack full of IOU's to collect upon with the league's Golden Children.

But enough about the opposition.  This is a Blue Jackets blog, and we're going to talk about the winners of tonight's game.

The Blue Jackets are now 6-2-2 since January 14.  The slump is over.  The lingering question is, "Is this the beginning of a streak that could see the Blue Jackets reach the playoffs"?  It's a great question but one best left answered on another day.  However, I'll linger on it long enough to congratulate Scott Arniel for pulling the team out of the tailspin.  It surely wasn't easy.  Columbus has a pretty good coach on its hands.

Steve Mason was beyond solid tonight - he was both lucky and good in stopping 32 of 33 shots.  I note that goaltending consultant - errrrr - coach Dave Rook has been hanging around the CBJ instead of his Pure Hockey Goaltending business in Canada.  It's amazing: Give a young player some hands-on coaching, and he actually plays well!  Mason can be a great player when coached up, but he needs the coaching.  Let's hope that Scott Howson puts the screws to Rook to spend more time with Mase down the stretch.

The other defining point to me in tonight's game was that the team defense actually showed up and helped Mason out.  The blue liners collapsed back to help Mason, and pucks were cleared out to the sides and deep down the middle.  It's like we were seeing an entirely new defense.  Which, in Columbus' case, is a very good thing.

Lastly, let's just take a moment to admire Rick Nash's dramatic recreation of a Mike Cammalleri sniper shot on the first goal of the game:

(Nikki who?)

Hell of a game tonight. The CBJ didn't give the Pens an inch.  The last gasp drive for the playoffs continues.

NEXT UP: Tomorrow at 7, the San Jose Sharks visit Nationwide. The Sharks beat the Capitals, 2-0, tonight, so they'll be just as tired as the CBJ. Big, big, big game --- like every game against Western Conference opponents are from here on out.

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