Friday, December 30, 2011

Game Recap - Columbus vs. Dallas 12/29

I learned a few things last night while enjoying the Blue Jackets victory over the Dallas Stars.  First, Team Canada slaughtering Denmark is LESS appealing than this years Columbus Blue Jackets team (I was expecting there to be a channel changing fest throughout the game).  Second, I learned that you flat out never can tell what Blue Jackets team to expect on the ice.  The team I watched last night was a playoff team with an injured top tier defenseman.  And third, I learned that twitter bans on people who post too much in celebration of victories make me laugh uncontrollably (looking at you, Alison)!!!

I know it was a win, but like all recaps I do have to cover the entirety of the game, including the first period where Columbus was outshot 19-9.  Full credit to Steve Mason for keeping them in the game, despite having his stick whacked right before trying to cover the puck which lead to the Stars only goal.  That period was rough, and certain stretches of the remaining two periods found the Blue Jackets hemmed in their own zone looking like they were trying to kill a penalty.  It was nice to see them not scrambling, and not taking chances which lead to brilliant scoring opportunities for Dallas, but in the future I hope they get a bit more aggressive on the puck carriers rather than sitting back and waiting for the opposition to make a mistake.

The bright spot on the offense in my books was Johansen.  FSN declined to give him a star of the game, which I think is ridiculous.  He single handedly created the first goal (Nash finished, but he had 90% of the net to shoot at) and had a key screen late in the game which lead to their third goal.  He also created additional chances, flew around the ice, and appeared to make both Carter and Nash play better in the process.  This was a breakout game for the Johan, and he looked very comfortable in that role.

Bonus points to the Blue Jackets offense for actually scoring.  They took 29 shots and most of them had a purpose, forcing Kari Lehtonen to make strong saves at key moments of the game.  They also managed to keep his save percentage below .900 which for this team seems to be one of the hardest things for this team recently.  To build more on that, they took 29 shots and could have easily scored 7-8 goals based on the quality of the shots.  I have been stressing this for weeks and it's great to see them finally play a game like that.  Rather than taking weak shots and hoping for a miracle, they worked hard, found quality passing lanes, and fought for tough rebounds.

One situation that really disappointed me was the officiating late in the game.  I questioned both of the calls made (a charge on Boll and a hook on Nikitin) with six and four minutes left in regulation.  While I can understand the refs wanting to keep the game clean, they ignored a number of penalty worthy plays by a scrambling Dallas team late in the game, which really set me off.  Usually this type of thing ends badly for Columbus, so again full marks to the guys for pulling out the win instead of caving at adversity.  I feel like there is a real lack of respect for the Blue Jackets by the officiating crews that call their games, and this is just another prime example of them getting the shorter end of the stick.

Wisniewski apparently has a broken ankle.  In a pretty stupid decision, he decided to try and make a kick save on a Dallas shot and it rocketed off his left foot.  For those who don't know much about hockey skates, the worst thing you can do is turn them sideways right before a puck hits them. Zero padding.  Major kudos has to go out to the defensive core who stepped up and kept the Stars off the scoresheet after Wiz couldn't return.  I think one of the real bright spots last night was John Moore, who contributed both offensively (two assists) and defensively in the win.

I want to cycle back one more time and comment on the play of Steve Mason, who took a pretty decent verbal beating via twitter after giving up the first goal (on his tenth shot of the period).  He has made 63 of 65 saves in his last two starts (for a .968 save percentage).  While his rebound control remains something to be desired, he is showing a keen ability to find the puck on the primary shot, and frankly, that's exactly what I expect out of him.  If the Jackets can play tight enough defensively and clear away any rebounds he creates, they could be pleasantly surprised by his output.  Over the last two games, he's allowed a goal to Jerome Iginla left alone in front, and a hacky rebound goal when his stick/blocker got slashed as he was trying to cover the puck.  Hard to not be impressed by the other 63 shots he's faced.  I'm not claiming we are witnessing a "Mason rebirth" but I am suggesting there is something about that kid that makes his development worth while.  He just needs defensive support to excel.

Overall a strong performance, but there are certainly areas of improvement.  With Wisniewski out for what some are claiming will be 7-10 weeks, Columbus will need to look deep (hopefully deeper than pressbox junkie Aaron Johnson) to resolve a fairly large defensive hole in both skill and minutes.  It would be a great time to see long time concussion sufferer Radek Martinek, or maybe see a call up from Springfield.  A big defensive task lies ahead with Washington coming to town on Saturday.

Carry the Flag!

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