. . . when you put the puck on the net. That’s the completion of the the sentence above, and a lesson that the Blue Jackets need to have drilled into their heads. A gritty 2 – 1 victory over the Dallas Stars last night added emphasis to the point. But more on that later.
The Blue Jackets played a somnolent first period, slogging across the ice as if they were on the trailing edge of a back-to-back-to-back series on the road. The Stars out-shot Columbus 9 – 3 in the first stanza, and it wasn’t that close. The Blue Jackets earned ironic applause when their first shot registered approximately eight minutes after the puck dropped, despite having three power plays in the period. In his post-game remarks, an exasperated Todd Richards refused to describe his thoughts on the power play, strongly intimating that his language would not be suitable for all –or potentially any — listeners. That the Blue Jackets were able to emerge from the period in a scoreless tie was due in equal measure to the goal tending of Sergei Bobrovsky, a consistently tenacious defense, and divine intervention.
Providence appeared to have taken a sabbatical early in the second, as Larsen put the first tally of the game on the board for Dallas — a shot from the point that Bobrovsky never saw, due to a triple screen from Morrow, Dubinsky and Tyutin. This was a reprise of an all-too-common theme this season, in which the Blue Jackets surrender the first goal. Despite stepping up the pressure in the offensive end (outshooting Dallas 17 – 5 in the 2nd), the Blue Jackets could not find the back of the net for most of the period, including whiffing on three more extra man situations, featuring a full 2 minute 5-on-3. Then, Columbus tied the score on the kind of play that the fans have been longing to see. Taking control of the puck high in the defensive zone, the Blue Jackets crossed the blue line with speed — and a three-on-two advantage. Anisimov cleared traffic, dumped the puck to Tyutin trailing, who found Derek Dorsett on the left wing. Dorsett buried a one-time under Lehtonen’s right arm, and suddenly the score was tied. Take a look:
Dorsett is one of those frustrating players. On the down side, he too-frequently takes ill-timed and ill-conceived penalties, and while he will hit anything that moves in the offensive or neutral zones, he has a tendency to trail the play back on defense and float in his own zone. On the other hand, he has the heart of a lion, will mix it up with anyone, and befuddles his critics with plays like this one. You have to tip your cap for a great effort here.
Returning to the central theme, many of the Blue Jackets’ ills can be attributed to a reticence to shoot the puck — waiting instead for that perfect angle, or making that one extra pass that foils the play. You can’t score if you don’t shoot, and sometimes just putting the puck in the vicinity of the blue paint can cause just enough chaos to produce results. Here’s Exhibit A:
With Johansen causing just enough of a distraction at the net, Lehtonen never knew what hit him — or his skate. That put the Blue Jackets into another gear, and though they went largely into a prevent defense for the remainder of the third, there was none of the scrambling associated with previous squads. Bobrovsky made some clean, timely saves, and the defensive effort was pesky, consistent and effective.
The two points was well-deserved and timely earned. The recent lack of success has not been for want of effort, and that is something else that could not be said in prior years. The shooting reticence is part of the development of team chemistry, and the second and third periods last night showed distinct improvement over prior games in terms of offensive intensity and execution. The tendency to have two or three forwards trapped below the goal line in the offensive end abated a bit, and — not surprisingly — better opportunities emerged. Defensively, this was perhaps the most consistent effort of the young season, effectively limiting Dallas’ time and space, and largely relegating them to shots from the perimeter. Whitney, Jagr & Co. were largely silent. Bobrovsky was solid, rebounding nicely from a mediocre game in Colorado.
The crowd was an intimate 10,475 — which is predictable for a Monday night game against an opponent from the far West. Now that the CBA is over, can we please turn our attention back to realignment? Once the Blue Jackets found their game, the crowd was there with them. Look for that phenomenon to grow.
The brutal schedule takes the Blue Jackets to Minnesota tonight, in their last road effort for a bit. Due to fog, they were forced to fly out this morning, instead of after the game last night, so look for some changes in the lineup. I would not be surprised to see David Savard draw in for Aucoin, and MacKenzie enter in Boll’s spot. Mark Letestu was on fire against Dallas — creating opportunities, nailing down the penalty kill — whatever was asked. It’s clear he wants to show that he belongs neither in the Press Box or on the fourth line.
The two points is another brick in the wall, and keeps the Blue Jackets in the peloton as they look to find their offensive mojo. When Johansen, Brassard and Dubinsky start getting rewarded for their efforts in non-scoresheet tasks, Atkinson returns, and Umberger finds his game, some good things can happen. Just like the things that happen when you put the puck on the net . . .