Time for a Gut Check
With less than six minutes remaining in regulation and up two goals against Calgary the feeling in Nationwide Arena was all too familiar. After all, the Blue Jackets had been outscored 30-16 in the third period on the season and already dropped three games with the lead heading into the final stanza. But this was Calgary, playing for a second night in a row, and historically the home team has came away the victor 13 out of the past 16 meetings. Yet, the Union Blue proved their most cynical followers correct with another late game meltdown and the ensuing shootout loss.
To say the Blue Jackets played 54 minutes of good hockey would be an overstatement; the CBJ came out flat in the first period. Steve Mason almost single-handedly kept them in the game making a couple circus saves as the Flames outshot the Jackets 10-5 and had control of the puck for the majority of the first 20.
A different Jackets team came out in the second period and despite giving up the first goal, managed to keep things together and dictate the play of the game. Then the Jackets got to Calgary backup Curtis McElhinney. At the 13:20 mark Rick Nash wristed a slick power play goal to tie the game up and snap a four-game goalless drought. Just 63 second later Marc Methot scored his first of the season to give the Jackets the lead. Jared Boll scored with less than 30 seconds remaining in the second to give the Jackets a two-goal lead and all the momentum heading into the intermission.
The ensuing third period was really a tale of two teams, the Jackets continued to get shots on McElhinney, making his second start of the season, and almost extended the lead. Then with about 10 minutes remaining they reverted into defense-mode. Any coach will tell you, a two-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey. The Blue Jackets found that out the hard way. They were manhandled on the boards in their own end and in the Calgary end. Columbus defenders looked like pee-wees chasing the puck around in the defensive zone. Breakout attempts were less than half-hearted and the Jackets committed numerous turnovers in at their blue line. The Flames cycled the puck behind the net, won on the boards, and Dustin Boyd and Nigel Dawes scored goals 79 seconds apart to tie the game up at 15:32 mark.
The Blue Jackets looked aloof in the final minutes of the third and overtime. Steve Mason looked lost in the shootout giving up three goals to four skaters. The Jackets losing streak was extended to five games.
The Blue Jackets are now 12-9-4 on the season, tied for third in the Central Division. Things do not get any easier for the Jackets tonight as they take on rival St. Louis in Nationwide. This will be the first meeting between CBJ and St. Louis on the season. Last year the Blues won five of six games against the Jackets and eventually overtook Columbus for the sixth playoff seed. The Blues haven’t hit their stride yet on the season and are in last place in the Central, but just three points out of third.
Tonight is a gut check for the Blue Jackets. Scott Howson and Ken Hitchcock believe this team has all of the pieces to contend but need to start putting in a full 60 minutes, a rarity this season. The players and fans shouldn’t need any more motivation than a quick YouTube search of Rick Nash and TJ Oshie to get revved up for this game. The Blues are a very similar team to the Blue Jackets, with a talented group of young forwards and defensemen. Not to mention both teams will likely be starting Masons in goal. This could very well be a defining game for Columbus in this young season. The Union Blue had better let their play define it.
Kris Russell will return to the lineup tonight after being a healthy scratch for five of the past six. Marc Methot will likely miss the Jackets next two games with an unspecified upper body injury.
After a short experiment with Raffi Torres on the first line early in Saturday night’s loss, Kristian Huselius has rejoined Rick Nash. Huselius has been a man on fire since returning from injury November 13th. Juice has 5-6-11 in his last eight games. He had nine points in 13 games prior to the injury.
The 2006 first overall pick Erik Johnson leads the Blues with 17 points in 24 games. The talented defenseman has been a rock for St. Louis after missing all of last season due to injuries from a freak golf cart accident.