The stage was set for a disappointing loss on Tuesday night. The team had just come back from a long road trip and had enjoyed a couple of days between games, not to mention winning their previous game, and complacency was practically expected. Hard to believe what we (as fans) got to witness. Not only did they take it to Minnesota for the better part of the game, they maintained their play late and did not allow complacency to take over.
First, I think it's worth pointing out the shots on goal. Columbus outshot Minnesota 14-7 in the first period, and 14-9 in the third period. They did to lay back a bit in the second, but unlike their usual results, a late powerplay goal gave them the momentum heading into the third period, which I thought helped them a great deal. If I had one negative to take out of their shooting, was that early in the game, they allowed Backstrom to stay in it. At one point (and I did not track it further than that moment) they had taken twenty shots, yet only managed to score a single goal. This is terribly common for them, and I noted on twitter that it seems like too many games, they provide the opposing goalie with the ability to leave the building with a save percentage better than .950 for the game. I am not contesting that they took truly mediocre shots, but the goals that followed (Vermette, Carter) were goals that shatter such stats, where opportunity is generated around the net on rebounds etc.
Second, how about David Savard. For a guy that really struggled at the tail end of his previous call up, Savy looked very impressive with the puck on his stick last night. He made smart plays, took quality shots - including one through traffic that netted him his first NHL goal - and really made the Minnesota players reconsider pressing him hard for the puck. I think once again we got a preview of what his true potential is, and if he and John Moore can continue to contribute in a positive way, they could really open the doors for Columbus moving forward. Might even convince me that we only need one top tier defensive signing in the off-season.
Third, I have to give it up again for Sanford. While he still makes me incredibly nervous with his puck tracking struggles through traffic, he commits well to the shooter and takes away a ton of the net when it's 1 on 0. I also have to think that the play of Columbus in front of him, including covering strong and taking away secondary scoring opportunities has really allowed him to get comfortable on the turnover shots that seem to be plaguing this team. I may not want Columbus to build around him, but I would suspect Howson is taking a looooong look at who should be the backup for the Jackets next season.
Fourth, Colton Gillies played a strong, physical game last night. I can think of three occasions where his pursuit of the puck on the forecheck forced Minnesota to take a hard hit and make a quick decision. That is absolutely paramount in keeping the puck deep in the offensive zone, and Gillies played his role extremely well. I also am extremely happy to see he managed an assist playing against his former team, and his point total in 9 games with Columbus (3) is already higher than his total in 37 games with Minnesota (2).
Additionally, I felt that Brassard and Carter both played strong games offensively. It was great to see Vermette score and while Nash didn't get a goal, he managed an assist and generated some offense. I was pretty disappointed with RJ last night, as once again he showed that turnovers outweigh heart and effort. Also, Johnson seems to really be struggling with retaining the puck as it comes to the point, and some of his passes were VERY suspect throughout the game. I hope for a strong effort Thursday, but can't help but wonder when the first chip will fall on the pending roster destruction.
Carry the Flag!