Not For The Faint Of Heart
Ladies & Gentlemen — if at any time during tonight’s game we should experience a loss of breathable air, a phenomenal young goalkeeper will appear in net, breathe life into everyone, and settle affairs nicely, once and for all. Thank you for listening . . .
Not unexpectedly, the Ottawa Senators put up a game fight tonight, but failed to overcome rock solid goaltending, a stingy defense, and just enough puck possession to keep the scary Spezza, Alfredsson, Heatley line at bay. The result: Jackets 1 Senators 0. Shutout #7 for Mase, and a sudden elevation to the lofty perch of a tie for 5th in the Western Conference standings. OK, accounting for games in hand, it is more like 6th or 7th, depending how you want to view it, but the point is made. The Jackets are for real, and the rest of the league had better climb on board.
The team played a wonderful first half of the first period, had a nice first power play, then got a bit complacent and tried to do too much with the puck. That was a bad decision, as our passing was not crisp all night, and we had trouble getting shots through to the goal. Our forwards were attempting to create space, but the crease was vacant much of the night. Still, we looked dominant, leading at one point 8 shots to zip. We came back and dominated the second period completely. 11 shots for us, 2 for Ottawa, giving them a grand total of 10 for 2 periods. I thought I saw Mason reading “War and Peace” in between naps. He could have done that during the second period, as the puck seemingly never made it to our defensive side of the neutral zone. The only slightly scary moment came when one of their two shots clanged off the right post. Whew!
The Voracek-Peca goal was tasty, showing what can happen if you do get in front of the net, and do get the puck through from the point. Glad we got that goal then, as we chose to become passive in the third, which got us grabbing, leading to two power plays and a third for a bonehead too many men penalty. This is where Mason put the book down and shut down Ottawa completely, making 4 really nice shots of the 8 Ottawa tossed his way, including a mano-a-mano, stare-down, slap-down grab of a point blank Danny Heatley wrister that brought the crowd to its feet. Wrap that around a scary moment when Mason stayed down on the ice after taking a puck awkwardly. After the game, he reported that a puck just found the gap in his pads at the knee, and he got “a little stinger.” No worries, he is ready for Saturday against Dallas. You gotta love this kid.
Nice crowd, but a little subdued. It was that kind of game. After the Senators failed to intimidate either the CBJ or the officials with some early thuggery, resulting in a Game Misconduct for Chris Neil and a 10 minute misconduct for Jarkko Ruutu, the game settled into a cautious pace. Give credit to the Jackets’ defense for keeping Ottawa out of rhythm. Despite being 4-1-1 in their last 6, you can tell Ottawa is hurting for cohesion. Other than the first line, nothing is happening, and even there most of the play is one on one. Vermette has nobody to work with, and neither does Fisher. Watching Vermette in warmups, he just does not look happy. He lined up for a faceoff against Jason Williams, and I wondered whether Jason was telling him how cool it is to play in Columbus.
Here are +/- for the night:
+ Mason — This is almost a tougher shutout than a 43 shot blanking. Two periods of snoozing, then all of a sudden you have to make some spectacular saves. Full marks for doing what was needed down the stretch to bring home two points.
+ Penalty Kill — absolutely perfect against one of the scarier power plays in the league. Not only did we kill every penalty, including 3 third period penalties and a brief 5 vs. 3, we were incredibly aggressive, creating turnovers and shorthanded chances. Beautiful to watch.
+ Defense — Back to Hitch-Hockey. Allowed only 18 shots, most of them coming on the power play, and only a few real scoring chances. We were smart and careful with the puck, for the most part. Good warm-up for Dallas.
+ Possession (1st 2 periods only) — All 4 lines did a nice job of keeping the puck in the Ottawa zone, not giving Spezza & Co. the opportunity to set up camp in our zone.
+ Players — Besides Stevie, Commodore and Hejda were dominant in our end. Russell was nice in transition, and both Murray and Voracek showed lots of presence. Peca made himself known as well.
–Puck Handling — I’m not sure if we thought we were auditioning for a hockey version of the Harlem Globetrotters, but we kept trying fancy passes, made too many passes on the power play, and deprived ourselves of good scoring opportunities. As the old saying goes, “Sometime, you have to stop reading the cookbook and bake the damn cake!” Same here — shoot the puck.
–Complacency — In the third periood, we went into the prevent defense too early, and it almost cost us. As Hitch noted postgame, when we do this we get on our heels and get sloppy.
–Musical Chairs — OK, Hitch. We get it that you are happy to have healthy guys back. We also get it that you like fiddling, and that our team chemistry is such that we can do that now. But can we keep some proven lines together for more than a minute or two??
We played two thirds of a good game tonight and won. In past years, that does not happen. No goals by power play, but movement is better, and we were hampered more by over-passing than anything. We did keep the puck in for extended periods. Baby steps.
Two big points tonight, and Minnesota and Nashville both lost. Quick turnaround for Dallas tomorrow, where the two points will be really big. Preview tomorrow. Great job, Jackets!!