Game 68: Secondary scoring, PK hold off storm surge

As happens frequently for the Columbus Blue Jackets, they received pivotal, game-changing secondary scoring to carry them to victory. Derek MacKenzie had two goals and Samuel Pahlsson scored his sixth — shorthanded, no less — to give the Jackets a 3-2 victory. Pahlsson’s goal came just 4:44 into the first when Kris Russell (on the PK, no less) blocked a shot, tore out of the zone with the puck, and passed it to Derek Dorsett, who initially took the shot that Pahlsson rebounded in.
MacKenzie notched his seventh of the season just 42 seconds into the second. The 2-0 lead will hold until midway through the third when Jeff Skinner knocked a goal home to make it 2-1. The game picked up pace, then, and both teams were in a frenzy. Carolina pulled Cam Ward with two minutes remaining, and MacKenzie fired one into the open net. But the game wasn’t finished then. The Hurricanes kept pressing and less than 30 seconds later made it 3-2. The Jackets were finally able to hold it down from there for the victory.
Steve Mason was both very good, and very lucky in this game. He turned away 29 shots in the victory. He made some very nice stops – and was able to keep out some lucky, sloppy bad angle shots from the Hurricanes, who had nine power play opportunities in the game, including two 5-on-3 chances. The Hurricanes’ struggling power play met a cohesive Jackets penalty kill to go 0 for 9. Unfortunatly, the Jackets were not able to capitalize on any of theirs, either.
– Russell now has 9 points in his last 12 games. Has he finally arrived? He’s accomplishing what Arniel and company have asked him to do: moving the puck with efficiency, and right now he’s doing that and getting points, even while the team is struggling. And he’s doing it while drawing the least amount of ice time among defensemen.
– According to the Columbus Dispatch, Chris Clark was lost in the game and will be out up to a month with a lower body injury. Can’t say he’ll be missed. The 35 year old has been a frequent healthy scratch and has only 14 points on the season. Even when in the lineup, Clark doesn’t seem to bring much to the table. His contract — and 2.63M cap hit — are off the books after this year.
– The Jackets return to the ice on Tuesday night at home against Boston, 7pm.

Playoff hopes fading, but plenty of reason for optimism

The Jackets left over a week ago to embark on their longest road stretch of the year: Nashville, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and St. Louis. What seemed upon departure to be a winnable road trip, has left the team’s seething with only two points over those five games. Games against teams they have beaten who themselves are in the Western Conference playoff predicament – St. Louis and Nashville – were close, but only one point was salvaged out of either. Vancouver, the one team of the trip who seemed to be the biggest hurdle after scoring seven goals on them in December, was a 1-1 game that needed a shootout to be decided. And let’s not talk about those games in Alberta. Just absolutely wasted points.

It should have been realistic to come home with six or seven points. It would have been preferable to do so. It was possible. Instead of being just a few points back of eighth and right in the pack, they’ve suddenly dropped back seven points with seventeen games left. There’s little use, at this point, in trying to guess how many games they would need to win, how many points to get back into the picture.

The fact of the matter here is that they have played themselves out of the playoff race after playing back into it. After a long, ugly skid that should have derailed them permanently months ago, their current skid is a mere speed bump, but shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. They’ve been good, but they’ve also been very bad.

But one thing they have consistently been is resilient. They have had poor performances and rebounded the following game to play even with the league’s best team. They have had terribly bad meltdown periods, and rebounded to tie games with impossible seconds left on the clock. They have (especially lately) done a very good job of keeping themselves in games and giving themselves a chance to win it, even when they did not deserve to.

Wasting your time, at this point, doing the math to tell you what you already know (which is: they need a miracle) is nothing but a morale waster. Seventeen games left are left. Ten at home, in fact, so don’t excuse yourself from this season just yet. There is a lot that can be taken away from the 65 games already played, and those remaning.

There is a lot to be excited about, if you’re the optimistic type. How about Matt Calvert? He’s only going to get better with age, and he’s amazed us over and over again. The kid doesn’t have an ounce of quit in him, just a whole hell of a lot of grit and hustle. There’s Scottie Upshall to be excited about – he’s brought something so elevated and new to the team that you’ve got to believe they’re going to give him a talk in the offseason. There will be depatures, free agents, and a fresh crop of rookies with a year of AHL seasoning ready to jump into the the fold.

Faded playoff hopes don’t erase these good strides the team has made. They’ve evolved, even from minute to minute, game to game, over the course of this season. Playoffs or not, it has been incredibly enjoyable. And if you have been focused on the number “95″ since October 1 and watching the standings on a minute by minute basis… well, you missed out on something good. This was a good team. This still is a good team. We’ll be holding your seat on the bandwagon next year.

In case you missed it… the last three days.

Honkeytonk Heartbreak: After a poorly-reviewed disallowed goal that caused much indigestion across the board, the Blue Jackets rebounded with a goal in the second period off the stick of Matt Calvert, his 10th of the campaign. Early in the third though, the Predators would return the favor when Shea Weber and then Jonathon Blum (his first career goal) would set the Preds ahead 2-1. Nothing is ever easy in Nashville for the Jackets, not even when a mid-period unassisted power play goal by Kris Russell ties the game. No, never easy. David Legwand’s killer of a goal would give the Predators their ultimate lead with just over a minute and a half to go. A brutal loss of two points for the Jackets to a team they are chasing in the standings.

Nashville Notes: Is anybody tired of typing “Matt Calvert” yet? It was his 10th goal in just his 21st game. For his performance last week, Calvert was named the NHL’s Third Star of the week. He has 8 points in his last 4 games and he’s shooting 28.6% on the year (10g on 35 shots). Kris Russell’s goal was his fourth of the year, and his fifth point in his previous five games (2g, 3a). He stepped up nicely in the absence of Anton Stralman… Stralman suffered a knee injury and didn’t accompany the team to Western Canada, instead returning to Columbus. Good timing for the new defensemen on board.

Thanks, Rostislav Klesla: After 10-plus years of service as the very first ever amateur draft pick of the Blue Jackets back in 2000, on Monday they traded defenseman Rusty Klesla to the Phoenix Coyotes. The Jackets also sent minor leaguer Dane Byers along. In return they received forward Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto from the Coyotes. Klesla, 29, played 515 games for the Jackets and was 41-92-133 and a career -50 in that time. His history of fragility was clearly no issue for the Coyotes, who accepted the trade pending a physical. Klesla missed the last month with a bruised knee. The Jackets also sent fan-favorite Tom Sestito to Philadelphia for QMJHL prospect Michael Chaput & minor-leaguer Greg Moore. Poor one out for Tommy’s career as a Jacket, but best of luck to him.

– What’s up, shall?: Meet Scottie Upshall, your new #8. The 27 year old Alberta native is a veteran of 340 NHL games and 3 NHL clubs (Nashville, Philadelphia, and Phoenix). He’s 80-85-165; almost even on goals and assists for his career. He scored 18 goals in only 49 games last year, and joins the Jackets with already 16 on the books for this year.

Lepist-who?: Sami Lepisto, #4 in your programs, is a 26 year-old native of Finland. In 132 career games (Phoenix & Washington), he owns only 27 points to his name, but he’s a +16. Before he joined the Jackets, he had 4-7-11, +7 on the season. He also represented Finland at the 2010 Olympics. In his Columbus debut against Vancouver, he logged 21:46 TOI, including 2:29 on the PP.

About Vancouver: The Canucks got an early goal from Mason Raymond who broke a scoring drought by outworking the defense one on one in front of Steve Mason. Scottie Upshall would provide a breath of fresh air by scoring his own goal to tie it up in the second period, with assists to his linemates on the third line, Dorsett and Pahlsson. It stayed tied through regulation and overtime, and moved onto the shootout. Raymond, Burrows, and Torres (hey, remember him?) scored for the Canucks in the seven-round shootout. Nash and Vermette tallied in the shootout for Columbus. While two points would have been fantastic, pocketing one point from a first-place Canucks team is a treat, especially when giving up the “third” point doesn’t negatively affect their competition.

Where We Stand: 31-24-7, 69 points. 12th, -5 8th place LA [one game in hand].

What’s Next: Thursday at Edmonton, Friday at Calgary. Two huge games to salvage points from – Calgary is sitting six points ahead in fifth place. Steal two, capitalize, and beat Edmonton while you’re at it, boys.