Game 1 in the books
The ink was barely dry on defenseman Rostislav Klesla’s new four-year contract extension by the time the puck was dropped on the new season. With a little less than ten minutes remaining in the Jackets’ home opener, Rusty showed his commitment to the only club he’s ever known in the form of a game-winning goal. The longest tenured player in Columbus matched his 2008-2009 goal total with a heavy slap shot from just inside the left circle. Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom probably couldn’t have stopped if he’d seen it.
The Union Blue opened up the 2009-2010 season with a 2-1 victory over their expansion kin the Minnesota Wild in front of a sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena. RJ Umberger opened up the scoring in the second with a beautiful shorthanded goal and Steve Mason turned away 32 of 33 Wild shots en route to the win. Minnesota’s lone goal came on a third period power play, with rookie Nikita Filatov in the box of shame for tripping. Andrew Brunette took advantage of some poor defensive zone coverage and beat Mason to tie the game up less than five minutes into the third. But, a resilient Jackets side, which peppered Backstrom with 39 shots on the evening, refused to quit. No “same ole’ Jackets” this year.
Mike Commodore sat the game out with a slight groin pull, but emergency call-up Mathieu Roy filled in admirably in the Jackets win. He made his presence know with a couple of big hits while paired up with Kris Russell. The “new and improved” CBJ power play was another story. The PP was 0-2 on the night including a futile effort on a four-minute chance late in the second. Here’s hoping the power play gets a jolt with newly-acquired defenseman Anton Stralman set to debut in Monday evening’s clash with the Canucks.
The line of Kristian Huselius, Derek Brassard and Rick Nash was held scoreless, a feet few were able to claim during the preseason. However, some timely contributions from the rest of the cast and a terrific performance from the reigning Calder Trophy winner in goal resulted in the “W” to start the season. Nikita Filatov had a couple solid chances early in the evening, including quasi-breakaway in the first but may have landed himself in coach Ken Hitchcock’s doghouse with his third period penalty. The Russian phenom did not see the ice for the rest of the game and Raffi Torres took his spot with Antione Vermette and Jakub Voracek.
It was Voracek who set up the game-winner with a gorgeous pass from the corner, through a crowded slot, onto the stick of his Klesla, who came streaking in from the weak side. Torres made it impossible for Backstrom to see the heavy slapper and his blind attempt at gloving it was in vein. Voracek may look like a chill Cali Surfer, with his long golden locks flowing from beneath the helmet, but he played like a beast on the boards., He may have looked a little awkward skating at times, but that’s what adding close to 15 pounds of muscle over the summer can do. When he gets fully acclimated, watch out NHL because this kid can play.
Lost in all the stories of the win, was the stellar performance from Mason. Perhaps it’s just become such a common occurrence to see Mason turn away 30 plus shots in a night the CBJ brass have come to expect it. His performance in the final minutes of the game, with the Jackets down one man and facing six Minnesota skaters, was outstanding. A couple more performances like that and any question of a sophomore slump will be quashed.
The Jackets have little time to celebrate because its straight to the road with games against Vancouver, San Jose and Phoenix, before returning to the Capital. The Jackets match up Monday night with the Roberto Luongo and the Canucks.