On a snowy Thursday night in January, I was ready to forgive the small crowd at Nationwide. I had an opportunity to make the 1.5 hour drive and backed out on account of the weather, but 17,233 other folks braved the storm and the team record in order to watch them play. "Gotta See it Live" in full effect apparently, and if you're one of those who did attend, I commend you. 17k for a weekday game of the 30th place team (by seven points) is darn near unheard of. The legitimacy of Columbus as a hockey market continues to grow.
Unfortunately the team didn't do the crowd any favours on the scoreboard, but they did manage to make a game of it, including a third period that saw them outshoot the Predators by a big margin (shots were 18-8). Full marks to Rinne who played a tremendous game of hockey, but more on that later. I did not like what I saw in the second period, as the Jackets were outshot and played a completely different game from the first. Fortunately for those watching, it was short lived, and they found life again for the final frame, but it seems like the same old story for Columbus, where they simply can't put together a full sixty minute effort.
It was a shame to see all of those rebounds find their way back into Rinne. Once again I will say his capacity to keep pucks out of the net was extremely high last night, but there were a couple of occasions where a raised puck or a puck shot in a better direction would have easily beat him. In fact, Nash had two specifically exciting opportunities, but the reactionary decision was to hammer them on net low and hard, and unfortunately they were stopped.
Derick Brassard was about as notable as you can get in a game playing beside Rick Nash. He controlled play when the puck was on his stick, finding creative ways to get the puck on net (he had five shots) and get his entire line into the offense. Beyond that, his efforts last night continue to build on what has been a fantastic turnaround in his season, and one that hopefully removes his name from the trade block. He was given the third star by FSN Ohio for yet another extremely solid performance.
Rick Nash is also worth talking about. Not only was he relevant on the puck (for the most part), he was positioning himself in front of the Nashville net and hammering at rebounds. If you haven't read it from me before, I am a HUGE proponent of getting his big frame into the low slot/crease area in order to generate offense, and while he didn't score, he had some tremendous opportunities. I am going to put that one on Todd Richards since Nash hasn't been there all year, and once again hope for more of the same moving forward.
Just as the offensive game was slightly to moderately disappointing despite quite a bit of effort, so was the defensive zone and goaltending. I thought Mason played a convincing game, letting only a cross crease one timer and a tap home on the powerplay get by him. I have created a benchmark of expectations on the netminders based on league averages, with Boston and St Louis leading the pack at 2.0 and 1.9 goals against per game on average.
With that in my head, I really don't expect Mason or Sanford to play at the top of the league average, so anything below three goals allowed is pretty much accepted. Two goals that were pretty much un-save-able, and another twenty-two saves in the game giving him a .917 save percentage at the end of the game. If I am looking back to the #CBJ twitter feed meltdown prior to the game starting on account of Mason getting the nod, I think .917 is nothing short of sparkling, especially considering Mason had about as much chance of saving the third goal (empty netter) as he did saving the first two that got past him.
To the defense, I can probably give them a pass. Nikitin/Tyutin had one truly bonehead play together in the second that lead to the first goal, which happens, but I won't throw their entire night away on one play. Moore was well out of position on the second goal, but again, it's one play in a long game where they appeared to be quite strong defensively. All except for David Savard, who had a number of truly unfortunate plays that lead to turnovers, and shots on Steve Mason. With Clitsome being benched for the last handful of games, you have to wonder how much mediocrity Richards will tolerate out of Savy before he sends him down to Springfield to iron out his game. He has had a very up and down year.
- Brett Lebda signed today to a one year contract after news of Martinek being out for the remainder of the year. That deal puts him on the NHL roster, leading me to believe that Savard will be heading to Springfield very soon. John Moore and Aaron Johnson are the other two way defensive contracts on the team, but I don't see either being sent back.
- I still can't get over seventeen THOUSAND people on a Thursday night. I give this fan base so much credit for sticking with them through the truly bad times and being passionate regardless of their record. It's time to bring a winner to Columbus.
- The Jackets are now on a six game road trip. They will not be back to Nationwide until February 7th against Minnesota. That's a long time to be away from home, and I can't help but wonder how many of these players we won't see in a blue jersey again. It's a troubling thought, but per usual, it's the way it goes when you have their record.
- Rick Nash will be getting his jersey retired this evening by his former OHL team, the London Knights. I find it great that junior clubs do that, and Nash is a tremendously storied player with his Richard, an Olympic gold, etc. Here's hoping they can add 'that other trophy' to his list of accomplishments within his current contract length.
Carry the Flag!