Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Game Recap :: Columbus vs. San Jose 2/21

Amidst all the trade deadline turmoil, a record that makes most Blue Jackets fans red in the face, and directly following a shameful home loss to Chicago, the boys in union blue put on a show.  In front of another 'more than they deserve' crowd of 14,625, they handed San Jose a beating.  This is the same San Jose who beat Columbus 6-0 in their arena twenty days ago.  The same San Jose team who went into the game 3-0 against Columbus this year. The same San Jose team currently leading the Pacific division.

But all of this didn't matter. Columbus came out firing and only let off the gas briefly in the early stages of the second period.  They played with tenacity, and the fire it takes to win hockey games.  The defense stymied opportunities and for the most part kept the slot void of free sticks.  Mason managed 38 saves to break a Blue Jackets record, and they did all of this without gaining a point on Edmonton in the Nail sweepstakes (who also beat a team soundly last night).

There are quite a few players I want to highlight:

Derick Brassard - How about this kid.  After the rocky start beneath Scott Arniel, Brassard has been on tear as Richards top line center, and is currently enjoying a streak of ten points in his last ten games, including a pair of excellent assists last night.  His vision on the ice keeps getting better and better, with really only Umberger's execution causing him to miss out on a couple more points.  His generosity with the puck is still a bit of a concern, but the fact that his passes are crisp and usually hit a stick leaves me less worried about it.

Further, his possession on the powerplay and breaking into the zone have increased in quality in a big way.  Where he used to lose speed trying to make a move to beat the first defender, he is now using already built up speed to burst past them.  He controls the puck into the offensive zone and either maintains possession while his linemates join him in the zone, or he finds an open player along the blueline to create additional space.  Basically, where he was turning over the puck, is now where he is creating opportunity.  This is something the Jackets are in great need of.

Jeff Carter - I don't think enough can be said about his shot.  He took what appeared to be at least by his standards a weak wrister about a minute into the game and it still seemed to give Niemi fits.  Scoring a hattrick, thanks in large part to some tremendous passing, will always get the crowd rolling.  It was capped by a great (and very thoughtful) pass by Nash who appeared to have Greiss beat in front of the net.

While I could talk all day about his shot, I also want to point out his ability to find the open lane in the high slot.  Two of the goals he scored were due in large part to his creativity in selecting a path to the net that will leave him open.  A prime example is his first goal last night:

What you see here is a pass by Carter skating backwards towards the blueline to Prospal along the boards.  Rather than maintaining his position at the point, Carter recognizes that at least one of the San Jose players will pressure Prospal and begins a path directly to the net.  Prospal feeds him the puck and he fires an awesome wrist shot that beats Niemi clean.

Additionally, his second goal of the game was nothing short of shockingly awesome.  I don't know how many players in the NHL have the presence of mind to backhand a puck through their own legs into the open net, but this is one of the first times I've ever seen it accomplished, and did it ever get me out of my seat.  I just can't speak enough to the creativity and poise he has with the puck.

Rick Nash - A lot has been said about Nash needing to be the second best player on a hockey team to perform, and frankly, I don't disagree.  What I saw last night from him, after momentum was on the Jackets side, was the Rick Nash I came to love watching years ago.  Tremendous confidence on the puck, creative in his deking, and picking his spots to crash the net in a big way.  He finished with a goal and an assist, and both were very Rick Nash-esque in their own way.  Beyond that, he made some other quality passes and really just appeared to be comfortable throughout.  It was a treat to watch him return to that kind of form.

Steve Mason - 38 saves against -- .927 save percentage -- I would hope people were pleased with his effort, because I sure was.  He came up big at times and I personally heard a few people expect a goal and 'wow' at the puck flying off Mason and into the corner instead of going in.  He was beat a few times, which was disappointing, but they were solid goals. I had a great angle of the Couture shot and it was some kind of wicked, going top shelf in the blink of an eye.  This game was also Mason's 85th career win as a Blue Jacket, which gave him the all time Blue Jackets win record.  If this season marks the end of his tenure with the team, I am personally glad to see him take hold of that record, and I personally hope they find a way to retain him for a few more years to give him ample time to develop behind a more prepared, older number one goalie.

Those players were standouts in my mind, but most of the team played lights out for the majority of the game.  It was a phenomenal atmosphere and I really don't think anyone in the arena who has followed the Jackets all year took any of the win for granted.  Some truly excellent cheering, and a major shout out to a #CBJTweetUp member who purchased a hat during his visit, only to throw it on the ice for Carter's hattrick.

Now THAT is what I call Carrying the Flag!!!

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