Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Passing Grade

Marko Dano at 2013 Development Camp
Last night the Columbus Blue Jackets played a very solid home opener against a top Metropolitan Division opponent, the New York Rangers.  Yesterday we described this game as a tougher test than the season opener for our squad, and they passed that test with flying colors, beating the Rangers 5-2.

Nick Foligno walks the Red Carpet

The Red Carpet for the Players
The Blue Jackets really did a nice job on the opening day ceremonies, and the plaza in front of Nationwide Arena was jumping all afternoon.  The ceremony of having the players walking down a red carpet through the fans turned out to go really well, I thought.  It was fun to see them do it, and I'll bet it was an interesting experience for the players.  Bob naturally came first, and earliest.  You could have lit a candle off Matt Calvert's smile, and it was fun to see the rookies Wennberg and Dano make the walk.  Nick Foligno was the last of the players, and he was warmly welcomed by the fans.

Once the game got started, we could settle down to some good hockey watching.  It was very interesting to me how the fans started booing Rick Nash every time he touched the puck.  Nash is off got a good start this season, and ended up getting a late goal in this game, but he was pretty effectively neutralized by the CBJ.  And I think that both teams having played a game already allowed them to get past any jitters quickly, and treat it just like another big game.

The Rangers seemed to get tired of Mark Dano early on in the game, a theme that I think will be recurring as the season progresses.  When Hagelin was assessed an elbowing penalty against Dano, the CBJ seemed to gain momentum with the following power play.  This lead to a stretch of play with the Blue Jackets dominating the puck possession, until a pass from Hartnell in the middle back out to the point allowed Artem Anisimov to walk into his shot and he rocketed a shot by Talbot, the Rangers backup goal tender, and the Jackets took a 1-0 lead at the 6:24 mark of the first period.

Late in the first period, the Ranger's focus on Ryan Johansen allowed him to chip a short pass to Nick Foligno in space.  Nick used that space to skate off the half wall and into the slot where he put a shot on net, and following his shot, buried the rebound to give the CBJ a 2-0 lead at 17:33 of the first period.

In the second period, the Rangers seemed to have a bit of the advantage of play, although it swung back and forth.  Then with nearly 6 minutes gone in the second period, Stepniak beat Bob to make it a 2-1 game.  Later in the period, with the Rangers building pressure, the CBJ got a line change and the first line of Foligno, Johansen and Atkinson hit the ice.  Johansen chipped the puck up to Foligno who bounced through two Rangers on a zone entry, and got the puck deep.  The Rangers recovered and tried to send the puck out of the zone.  Johansen had recovered to a defensively responsible position at the right point, and when the puck came to him he put a soft shot back on net.  With the turnover at the blue line both Foligno and Atkinson were behind the Rangers defense.  The puck came through Foligno and right to Atkinson, who buried the puck to give the Jackets a 3-1 lead late in the second period.

With one minute remaining in the second period, a rather bizarre sequence of events happened.  Jack Skille was skating laterally collided with a Ranger (I didn't see who it was) and left the Ranger player on the ice.  The replay showed both players looking back at the puck carrier, and neither saw each other until the collision.  Nonetheless, Chris Kreider took umbrage with this sequence of events, and jumped Skille.  The ensuing scuffle left one of the Rangers best offensive players in the penalty box with a 2 minute instigator penalty, a 5 minute fighting penalty, and a 10 minute misconduct.  This kept one of the Rangers best offensive players in the penalty box for 17 of the remaining 21 minutes of a game that the Rangers were already trailing 3-1.

In the third period the Jackets seemed to recover a bit of their verve, and started skating with more authority than they had in the second period.  Although the Rangers never quit pushing, the CBJ skated well, and did not seem content to sit on their lead.  Early in the second half of the third period, Marko Dano scored the first goal of his NHL career, to make it 4-1 CBJ, by potting a rebound that came to him in the low slot.

Rick Nash came back to score for the Rangers to make it 4-2, and the Rangers pulled their goal tender with almost 3 minutes left in the game.  This allowed Cam Atkinson to get the empty net goal, to salt the win at 5-2.

This was a good game, and an important step for the team.  A 2-0 start won't win you anything, but it is nice to have.  The Hockey Analytics Division of the Dark Blue Jacket informs us that based on these results they are now projecting the CBJ to go 82-0.  They did mention that there was a certain amount of inherent error in their projection methods, something they call the 'fanboy curve deflection influence'.  It's all beyond me, I just report it as I hear it.

I like this win because it was a big game in front of a sold out house.  The team's inability to win that type of game held attendance numbers down late into the season last year. This is a really good start, and positions the team well for a long season.  Win a few more of these big games at home, and a lot of things are possible.


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