Blue Jackets Beat: Justice Unserved

Lady Justice goes to the forehand

Hockey afficionados around the league are waking up this morning, reviewing the scores from Sunday’s action, and nodding their collectively heads knowlingly as they peruse the “Edmonton 3 Columbus 1” entry.  That is likely followed by something akin to “That’s no surprise . . .”   Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending upon your perspective — those people would be dead wrong, as neither the score nor any summary can do justice to what the 14,364 in attendance witnessed last evening.

Shots Taken . . . Shots Denied

Consider that the offensively-challenged Blue Jackets posted 40 shots on goal against Devan Dubnyk.  40.  Another dozen whizzed off the post or just off the net. These were not lob shots from the point, but true chances from dangerous positions.   Only Tim Erixon, Cody Goloubef and Colton Gillies failed to register shots on goal.  The only statistical category where the Blue Jackets were outdone was Hits, where the Oilers doubled them up at 26 – 13.  This is a graphic illustration of the meaningless nature of the Hits number. Aside from its highly subjective interpretation and enforcement, a hit is only registered when the opponent has the puck.  If you are consistently out-hitting the other team — as the Blue Jackets have for a while — it means that you are not spending a lot of time with the puck.  This certainly rang true last night, as the ice tilted sharply toward Columbus in terms of time of possession, both at even strength and on the power play.

Flipping the coin over for a moment, consider that the young guns of the Oilers were held to 14 shots — including an empty netter — over three periods of play, including four power plays.  Nail Yakupov had zero shots.  The Blue Jackets tormented the Edmonton forwards most of the evening, beating them to the puck, winning the battles.  This domination came while only breaking even in the face-off circle and going zero-for-seven on the power play.  Again, however, those numbers are deceiving.  The Blue Jackets were able to consistently keep possession in the offensive zone during the power play, and generated sixteen shots on goal with the extra man.  Dubnyk managed to flash enough over-sized padding to stop some close in chances, and glove others.  Jack Johnson had a wide open net on one power play, but hesitated too long, enabling Dubnyk to recover.

Depending on your outlook, it is either ironic or appropriate that R.J. Umberger broke out of his scoring slump and finally displayed some energy and awareness on the ice.  He made a nice move on the scoring play, and had some other close opportunities.  His ratio of plays made to turnovers surrendered (in a practical, not statistical, sense) remained high, and he fully participated in the wealth of opportunities that simply could not be converted.

Misguided Return

It’s rare — and more than slightly uncomfortable — but a large measure of last night’s loss can be attributed to a single individual — James Wisniewski.  Give Wiz full marks for

Columbus defenseman James Wisniewski (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Columbus defenseman James Wisniewski (Columbus Blue Jackets)

showing the intestinal fortitude to get back on the ice last night and having the desire to compete.  However, he was an unmitigated disaster on the ice last night, with his gaffes leading directly to both contested Edmonton goals, as well as a third that the Blue Jackets dodged by the slimmest of threads.  Edmonton’s first goal came on a horrendous pass that Wisniewski attempted from Bobrovsky’s right corner.  Trying to find Calvert in the middle on a “no-look” move, Wiz instead found the stick of Taylor Hall, who had all of five feet to navigate to get to Bobrovsky.  Wisely, Bobrovsky challenged Hall, and made the initial stop.   He lost his stick in the process, however, and Ales Hemsky was right there to cash in on the rebound.  Later,  Wisniewski lost the puck trying to circle his own net.  The puck caromed toward Bobrovsky, who deflected it with his glove near the right post.  Jordan Eberle was right there, and batted the puck out of the air and into the net.  Fortunately, the on-ice officials waved the goal off as being hit with a high stick, and an excruciatingly long review was deemed inconclusive, thereby affirming the call on the ice.  The collective exhalations of relief likely caused enhanced melting of the ice surface.  Finally, with the score tied, the clock winding down toward the three minute mark, and the Blue Jackets on the power play, a point seemed virtually assured, and a victory well within grasp.  However, Wisniewski once again was the catalyst, as he failed to keep the puck in at the right point, making an “Ole!” pass at the puck with his stick as Gagner accepted the puck and blew between Wiz and the boards, keying an odd-man rush.  Gagner found the trailing Paajarvi, who beat Bobrovsky, and the air left the building.The coaching staff has to take partial blame for this one.Entering the contest, with Wisniewski’s participation in some doubt, coach Todd Richards indicated that they would be watching his ice time and would possibly restrict his power play time to keep him healthy for five-on-five work.  Uh, that’s not how it turned out.  Only Johnson and Nikitin turned in more shifts, and only Anisimov and Johnson played more minutes with an extra man.  Everyone in the building could see that Wisniewski was struggling, and Johnson’s effectiveness was hampered by the need to cover for his defensive partner. Wisniewski spent more than 24 minutes on the ice, while Erixon and Goloubef played less than nine.  These are not the playoffs, and there was no compelling need to have Wisniewski rushed back last night, particularly with another came tonight.  Bad call by the coaches, and the Blue Jackets were burned by the results.

Good Lessons from Bad Results

This is the type of game that is frustrating to analyze.  On the one hand, it’s a loss, and the record drops to 3–7-2.  No way around that.  On the other hand, the Blue Jackets played very, very well for three periods, in all three zones, and were consistently dangerous on offense for the first time this season.  The defense limited a very fast and skilled team to a ridiculously low number of shots.  Those efforts are rarely unrewarded, and the Hockey Gods will hopefully level the score as the season progresses.  It’s at times like this when  we need to remember that the Blue Jackets are once again the youngest team in the league, and are only now getting used to each other. Youngsters’ mistakes are unavoidable and the cost of doing business.  The mistakes of a veteran trying to rush back from injury are preventable, and that was an organizational failure as much as an individual one.  Still, the number of gasps and intervals of applause occasioned by the offensive threats the club posed last night were good to hear.The home stand ends tonight with the veteran San Jose Sharks invading the arena, followed by a lengthy road trip.  Maybe — just maybe — the signs of chemistry and skill that have been emerging over the past few games can gel over a chemistry-bonding road journey.  Tomorrow brings our review of the first quarter of the season, including tonight’s effort.