It's such an awkward thing as a fan trying to sound even remotely logical through times like this. Saturday around 10 PM I was a number of adult beverages into a pretty mediocre effort against Chicago dissecting the team, potential firings, potential signings, potential trades... Anything that could have built some semblance of success into a year gone wrong.
Yet just like that, the fans are treated to an all around effort this evening, leading to the second win of the season. Admittedly I avoided the drive, citing sobriety and time as two things I was not willing to waste on another loss, and I am happy to report that I not only ate my words, but felt legitimately guilty about not making the trip. It revitalized me as a fan, and hopefully was a turning point for a number of reasons.
To the game, the first player I would like to acknowledge is Steve Mason. Absolutely phenomenal saves lead him to his second win of the year, and only gave up a goal to Bobby Ryan alone breaking in, getting absolutely sniped on the far post. He made a number of stellar saves, none more tremendous than a double pad/kick save on Corey Perry. I have read over and over again that Mason is not worthy of a starting position and that he owes the team a stolen game here and there. Well, for those crooning over such an effort, they got it tonight. Admittedly the Jackets managed three goals (Chilllaaaaaaay!) but it was Mason's stellar saves that kept the lead in tact.
I like following up the goaltenders efforts with the defensive efforts of the team, as I believe for the most part one relies on the other, and I have been exceptionally harsh towards the Blue Jackets defense of late. Tonight, short of one major defensive lapse by Aaron Johnson, they were quite solid. Where the play of Johnson lacked, others most certainly stepped up, notably the Wisniewski/Tyutin pairing, and a significant improvement from young John Moore, who seemed to really find his stride last night. Smart decisions and quality positioning made him a real asset during his time on ice, along with one play where he blew a tire behind the net slamming hard into the boards, yet still managed to retain possession and make a decent play.
I want to again highlight the turnaround I have seen from Fedor Tyutin. I heavily criticized the extension he received late in the off-season. I had hoped that he would be evaluated for the first few months of the season before receiving an extension offer, as I feel like his relevance to the team would be substantially changed with the Wisniewski signing. Last night he showed me that he can be every bit of a number two defensemen, playing strong physical hockey and finding the back of the net through traffic (although he still really needs to learn to keep that point shot down). If he can continue to grow as a defender the way he has in the last few games with his partner Wiz, I will certainly agree that he is worth the pricetag.
Offensively, Rick Nash finally opted to show up for a game, and it could not have come at a better time. Significant in his first few shifts including backchecking, breaking up plays defensively, and generating scoring opportunities offensively, Nash was rewarded with a great screen by Umberger on the powerplay and his fifth goal of the year through RJs screen. Nash has been another player who I have been actively discussing on the blog as one who is woefully below his potential on the ice right now, but it is my hope that his efforts last night reflect a new page in the season. After the game you could tell he was playing for the respect of the coach and the franchise, noting that it was a game they had to win, and suggesting that they are not even remotely satisfied with it being only their second win in eleven games.
Secondary to Nash, I felt that a number of the Jackets looking to move past their own personal slumps had reasonably solid games, although I was disappointed that Vermette was unable to cash in on his first goal of the season. I was fairly certain it was going to be his night, but maybe there are better things in store for him. I still believe that Giroux and Bass are in over their heads and that Pahlsson has regressed to nothing more than a fourth line center, however the play of Johansen was enough for me to get fully on board with his retention now that he is on the cusp of his 10 games, and leads me to believe that when Carter and Huselius get back, this team will be a very serious, very complete forward roster.
More great information relayed post game suggested that a player generated meeting was held prior to the team meeting yesterday in order to get themselves prepared to (as Scott Howson would put it) stand and fight. If this is any indication of a surfacing of the heart that has been so deeply missed by this club, they have rejuvenated my interest in both attending games and taking the team seriously as a competent hockey team. They have a significant amount of talent spread throughout the roster and when utilized properly are well within the definition of playoff capable. Realistically it is a tremendous mountain they will have to climb to find themselves playoff relevant, but should they manage a spot in the post-season this year, it could be the best story Ohio hockey has to offer for quite some time.
Carry the Flag!