The Klesla Situation
The Blue Jackets snapped a five-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues last night. RJ Umberger had a hat trick and added an assist for good measure. Steve Mason turned away 27 of 29 shots to record his first win in five starts. However, the most significant story from last night’s game was the loss of defenseman Rostislav Klesla after an ugly collision with Barret Jackman.
As Klesla was attempting to bat down the puck just inside his blue line and turning toward the boards when Jackman plowed into him. Both players went into the boards awkwardly and it was immediately evident that he was hurt. The image of Klesla crumbled on the ice with his leg twitching was haunting. His Czech Mates, Jan Hejda and Jakub Voracek, helped him off the ice under his own power, but there was no question that it was a serious injury. Columbus General Manager confirmed those fears today when he announced Rusty had suffered a torn groin and stomach. He’s expected to miss close to six weeks.
The team, and crowd for that matter, was visibly distraught. Despite leading 2-0 after Kris Russell and Umberger had both scored in the first five minutes, the energy was completely sucked out of the building. It allowed St. Louis to gain the momentum. Erik Johnson scored a power play goal seconds before the end of the first period and the Paul Kariya tied it up with the lone goal in the second off of a nice tic-tac-toe play from David Backes, TJ Oshie. Fedor Tyutin played the 2-on-1 poorly to say the least.
But it would not be a repeat of what seemed like so many other games this season. The Jackets, with an already depleted defense, dug deep and were able to hold the lead after Umberger regained it just over five minutes into the third. Antoine Vermette scored and empty-netter and, in a rare occurrence, Blue coach Andy Murray chose to once again pull goaltender Chris Mason. With less than 20 seconds remaining, RJ made them pay with one of the hardest working empty-net goals you’ll see. Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock claimed was not even aware that Umberger was just a goal away from the hat trick when he sent him out. Believe what you want, but the hat trick, his first as a Blue Jacket, was certainly a just reward for Umberger, who is attempting to secure a spot on the USA Olympic Team after being a noticeable snub at the training camp.
There was little time for celebration in the Blue Jackets locker room. With Marc Methot already sidelined with a day-to-day upper body injury, two of the Jackets top seven defensemen will be out of the lineup tonight. It came as little surprise when Howson announced that Mathieu Roy, who performed very admirably during his seven-game stint t start the season, was brought up on emergency recall. He’ll likely be paired with Russell. Last season’s ‘shutdown’ pair, Hejda and Mike Commodore, will likely be reunited in Klesla’s absence. Tyutin will most likely remain with Anton Stralman.
Howson insists at this point he is not exploring trade options. This means the defensive corps, which has struggled as a whole this season, needs to step up their game. Improvements from Russell and Commodore, who both put forth season-best performances last night, will be essential to the Jackets’ success during the 20 plus game stretch they must face without the team’s “heart and soul.”
This is a tough break for the Jackets, and it certainly gets no easier as they travel to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks tonight. Marian Hossa will make his debut tonight in front of the Chicago faithful. He has a pair of goals in three games with Chicago after returning from rotator cuff surgery. ‘Hawks coach Joel Quenneville is vying for his 500th career win. Chicago is coming off consecutive losses, snapping their previous eight-game winning streak. They are sitting atop the Central Division with 35 points. Every division game is worth four points and these four are about as tough as they come.
Kris Russell had a goal and an assist in his return to the Blue Jackets lineup. He also logged a career-high 23:06. He will need to continue to contribute on the stat sheet and in his own end if the Jackets hope to keep afloat with Methot and Klesla out.
He wasn’t getting much attention until last night, but RJ Umberger is quietly on pace to surpass his career-high goal total of 26 last year and points total of 50 from 2007-2008.
The Jackets win last night was just the third time this season they have done so without Rick Nash registering a point. Nash has been held off the score sheet for three of the past five games.
Despite being held scoreless in his last three contests, Anton Stralman is tied for second in the league among all defensemen with four power play goals.
- Bart Logan