Weirdness prevailed before and during the Blue Jackets visit to the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island to take on the New York Islanders. Coming in with a four-game winning streak, and facing a team that had been on the losing side in 13 straight contests, this had all of the earmarks of a game that could go badly.
As preparations were underway, the signs were ominous. Nikita Filatov was curiously absent from the bench, despite having participated in the morning skate. As it turns out, the young forward was being held out as discipline for what coach Scott Arniel termed “an internal matter.” Reports from Tom Reed of The Columbus Dispatch indicated that Filatov had overslept and missed a team function. Pretty sure that won’t happen again . . .
The game itself had more than the requisite share of weirdness. At the midpoint of the first, designated pugilist Jared Boll dropped the gloves with the Isles’ Trevor Gillies. That was a decision Boll likely regrets today, as he took a beat down of epic proportions. Sitting in the penalty box, with ice on a sore hand, clutching his rib cage and sporting a bloody nose, one would have voted Boll as the recipient of the “Least Likely To Return” award. However, he did see more action, posting over six minutes of ice time. However, Gillies, who received fighting, instigator and 10-minute misconduct penalties, did not see further action.
The fracas had the desired effect for the home team, as they took the lead just 16 seconds later, on the first of two strange goals. Frans Neilsen circled behind the net with the puck, skated into the right hand circle as Rick Nash and Fedor Tyutin closed. As Neilsen directed the puck toward the net, it appeared to carom off of one of the defender’s sticks, arcing high in the air. Derick Brassard tracked its flight, pointing to the airborne puck for the benefit of goalie Mathieu Garon, who did not appear to see it. The puck ultimately landed at the feet of the Isles’ Trent Hunter, who snapped it home on the short side for his first goal of the season, and providing much needed hope to Islanders fans — most of whom came dressed as empty seats.
It took only a few minutes for the Blue Jackets to even the score. Matt Martin was sent off for boarding at the 12:01 mark, and just six seconds later, Zenon Konopka was called for closing his hand on the puck. After some nifty passing and good possession, Columbus converted the 5-on-3 opportunity when Brassard fired a nice feed to Antoine Vermette, who tipped the puck home for the equalizer. Not satisfied, Chris Clark fired home a rebound from the slot just two minutes later, providing a 2-1 lead at the break, and seemingly restoring order to the universe. Such was not the case.
During the first intermission, the organization revealed it new third jersey, highlighting the cannon logo shown above, which appeared to receive largely positive reviews from those assembled at a local game watching gathering. Somewhat ev0cative of the Rangers’ third sweater, it helps solidify the clubs transition to an image steeped in the Civil War era.
Back on the ice, the second period started with more bizarreness, at least from the Columbus perspective. Just 51 seconds in, Michael Grabner grabbed a juicy rebound and parked a backhand behind Garon to tie the game. Ninety second later, Bruno Gervais intercepted Rostislav Klesla’s clearing attempt on the blue line, and fired a shot wide of the net. The puck again caromed high, landing at the left post, in front of an unsuspecting Garon. The puck arrived at the same time as John Tavares, who nudged the biscuit between Garon’s legs for a 3-2 lead.
Past Blue Jackets teams might have cashed it in at this point, particularly in a road game, but this is not your father’s Blue Jackets team. They turned up the pressure and gained a tie at the 6:46 mark, when R.J. Umberger made a diving stab at a rebound of a Jan Hejda shot, finding the high corner.
The remainder of regulation proved scoreless, with few striking opportunities for either side. Overall, it was characteristic of the Blue Jackets’ performance as a whole — well-intentioned, but ragged. From the goaltender out, there was simply a “fuzziness” to their game that prevented Columbus from asserting control.
In contrast to much of regulation, the overtime frame was characterized by
prime chances. Garon turned two big chances aside, including a point-blank effort by Nielsen, setting the stage for the game winner. Kris Russell, scratched by Arniel for the last two games for getting away from his offensive style, took the puck at his own blue line, entered the offensive zone with speed, and made a nifty inside move, firing the puck on Rick DiPietro as he fell. DiPietro made the save, but surrendered a prime rebound, which Jakub Voracek obligingly parked in the back of the net. Cashing in the game winner was somewhat of a relief for Voracek, who had missed two tip-in opportunities in front of a wide open net.
Voracek’s resilience is emblematic of the attitude the team as a whole is bringing to the ice in every game. While suffering moments of scrambling from time to time, there is apparently no panic in this team. They appear to be able to focus solely on the task at hand, and the results are self-evident.
Those results include some rather other-worldly numbers for a franchise largely predicted to finish 14th in the West. At 14-6, with 28 points, the Blue Jackets nominally share the Western Conference lead with Central Division colleague Detroit, although the Red Wings have a game in hand. The Jackets are third in the NHL in goals against per game, have a five-game winning streak, and are playing at a pace that would earn them 115 points at year end, second only to Detroit’s pace of 121 points in the NHL stuff.
Of course, it is a long season, and anything can happen. However, Columbus is the only club in the league not to lose two in a row this season, is getting solid goaltending from its tandem of Garon and Steve Mason, and is rolling four lines on a fairly consistent basis. The signs are positive, and as the fans in Columbus sit down to Thanksgiving today, the Blue Jackets are providing one more thing for which they can be thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving (American style) to everyone!