Jackets Overcome Flames, Officials
- Updated: October 14, 2009
Before a perplexingly small, but loud, crowd of 13,280, the Blue Jackets utilized a stingy defense, solid goaltending and a good measure of discipline to beat an angry Calgary Flames team, 2 – 1, and continue their roaring start to the 2009 – 2010 campaign.
Entering the contest, a virtual slugfest was anticipated, given the bad blood generated between the two squads last year after Phaneuf’s cheap shot hit on R. J. Umberger. Add the fact that Calgary blew a five goal first period lead last night against Chicago, and the makings of felonious assault were all there. Coach Ken Hitchcock was sufficiently convinced that brutality was going to be the order of the day that he scratched young Nikita Filatov and new defenseman Mathieu Roy. However, while the affair was a tight checking, edgy game, it never escalated to the donnybrook many (including me) predicted. I gave my wife an over/under number of four fighting majors for each team, and thought the over would have been a good bet. Not so.
The only officially recognized pugilism occurred just two minutes in, when Jared Boll dropped the gloves with Brandon Prust. While the timing was understandable from one perspective, as Calgary had taken 6 of the first 7 shots, it was unfortunate in another, as it negated a sizzling laser from the point off the stick of Marc Methot from the left point, negated by the fact that Boll and Prust had already dropped the gloves before the shot was taken. Other than this, only two concurrent roughing penalties provided any indications that these teams just do not like each other.
The Jackets showed uncharacteristic discipline, given the youth of the squad and the early stage of the season, by allowing Calgary only one power play, which was duly killed. Calgary entered the game as the league leader on the power play, cashing in about 45% of the opportunities. It was a non-factor tonight, as the Jackets made use of a great performance by Mason and terrific three-zone defense. The forecheck was very strong, and the club was able to repeatedly set up their picket fence in the neutral zone, obviously frustrating the highly talented Flames, who could never get any prolonged continuity in the offensive zone.
Calgary took the initial lead late in the first, when former Jacket Curtis Glencross banked home a bouncing shot from Borque. Mason had no chance on the play, and the Jackets protested that Glencross had hit the puck with a high stick. A review from Toronto confirmed the goal, providing a massive sense of déjà vu to the assembled fans, and providing a bad omen for things to come. When Brassard missed an open net on one opportunity and clanged the pipe on another, it appeared that a 1 – 0 result might be the outcome.
However, as the second period rolled along, the Jackets found their offensive momentum, and began carrying the play for extended periods in the offensive zone. A fatigued Mark Giordano took a hooking penalty with just over six minutes left in the period. The power play unit maintained possession and pressure, forcing the Flames’ Cory Sarich into another hooking infraction, and giving the Jackets a 5-on-3 opportunity for 40 seconds. Hitchcock took a timeout to enable him to use the same personnel, and only nine seconds were required to convert, when former Flame Anton Stralman fired a blast past Kiprusoff from the left point to knot the score. Still on the power play, the Jackets had opportunities, but could not convert until just after a return to even strength, when another former Flame, Kristian Huselius, banged home a rebound to provide what would prove to be the winning margin. Nash assisted on both goals, with Brassard and Umberger notching the other helpers.
In the best Ken Hitchcock tradition, the Jackets shut down the potent Flames offense in the third period. They also overcame a bizarre turn of events when an apparent goal from the crease was waved off, due to an inexplicable whistle from referee Stephen Walcom. Replays clearly showed the puck visible after a save by Kiprusoff, and Walcom apparently staring right at it, yet you can hear the whistle blow, for no apparent reason. To say that the fans expressed their displeasure would be the epitome of understatement. Nonetheless, Columbus shut down Calgary for the remainder of the period, and though Nash’s bid for an empty-netter from the red line clanged off the right post, another two points was secured.
The officials had a generally lousy night. Besides the phantom whistle, a massive hook of Voracek on a breakaway should have earned a penalty shot, but didn’t even bring a penalty call. The officials missed a Calgary “too many men” penalty when the puck in play hit a Calgary player leaving the ice, and what appeared to be Calgary’s unprovoked dislodging of their own net while Columbus was on the attack drew no attention from the officials. Nonetheless, the young Jackets maintained discipline throughout.
Hitchcock has always said that it is the defense that has the toughest time at the beginning of the season. If that is so, I can hardly wait for them to get through their tough time . . . other than the San Jose aberration, the team has allowed just five goals in the other four4 games played, including three goals by Vancouver. Mason was solid as a rock tonight, and the entire team started to show more signs of coming together as a unit.
Naturally, there are rough spots to work out. The power play looks much better, but still needs work. However, Stralman is improving by the shift, and provides precisely what we need at the point. Our defensemen still wait for the puck to come to them too much in the defensive zone, rather than skating to meet the puck. This makes the team vulnerable to hard charging forecheckers, who cause havoc and turnovers in our own zone.
Still, with Brassard just coming around and Filatov being nursed at a very slow pace by Hitchcock, the 4 – 1 record the team has posted is very impressive. Nash is racking up assists, and everyone is chipping in. The Vermette – Umberger – Voracek line was absolutely terrific tonight. As the remaining pieces come together, this could prove to be a very good hockey club.
Los Angeles Saturday night, then back on the road out West, with stops in Calgary, Edmonton, Anaheim and Los Angeles. While the CBJ will not sneak up on anybody this year, the talent they have is such that they just might not need sneakiness to win. A very good Calgary club came into town tonight, and walked away with no points. That has to be encouraging to everyone. You know that doing it with defense has Hitchcock smiling that slightly devious smile he sports from time to time. Right now, there is a lot to smile about.