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.

Game 60: The Natural pulls off the trick

AP Photo

On a night when the Jackets were ten minutes late to their own party, Matt Calvert stole the show. The game started as oh-so-many this year, down in an 0-2 hole just eight minutes into the game after a couple of unfortunate, ugly goals. But RJ Umberger’s 20th goal got them on the board and Jakub Voracek’s twelfth tied it up at two late in the first.

It would be a brand new game when the puck dropped for the second period. And that’s when Calvert took over. His first, a power play goal, came when Kris Russell circled the net with the puck and tossed it to him in the right circle. Calvert moved in and popped a shot over the shoulder of Ilya Bryzgalov. Six minutes later, Calvert batted the puck out of the air and past Bryzgalov to give the Jackets a 4-2 lead.

Onto the third period, he would waste no time getting that third goal. He batted his own rebound into the net to give the Jackets their fifth goal. It was a natural hat trick for the kid with perhaps the most natural, gritty talent. They barely flinched when Phoenix got another goal late. By then, Steve Mason had turned away 25 shots en route to his 22nd win of the season, already two more than he had last season.

Calvert notched his 7th, 8th, and 9th goals and now has 13 points in just 20 games in the NHL. Umberger’s goal and two assists bring him to 46 on the year, and Derek MacKenzie had another big game on a line with Umberger and Calvert, adding two assists to his total. With Huselius and Brassard out, the juxtaposed second line is a veteran in Umberger, a journeyman bubble-guy in MacKenzie, and a rookie who obviously loves what he’s doing in Calvert. It’s not an accident that they combined for four goals and five assists last night. They’ve got something going right: their ability to battle for pucks that is sometimes lacking up top.

Where we stand: 31-23-6 (68pts), 12th place, -2 8th place Chicago
What’s next: Sunday at Nashville, 3pm

Notes: At the noon today, the Jackets picked up former Sabres captain Craig Rivet, who will wear #52. Rivet, a defenseman, has 236 points in 909 career games … Calvert was named one of the NHL’s Three Stars for his effort last night. He was only the second rookie in franchise history to net a hat trick, the other being Nikita Filatov in 2009 … “Matt Calvert” was briefly trending worldwide on Twitter during the game.

What Could Have Been

[Note: Apologies for the lack of Game 59 post. Got home late, have been ill, let it be known the game was phenomenal.]

It is no secret that the Columbus Blue Jackets are not fond of the month of December. After closing up November’s schedule, the Union blue were 14-8 and earning 63.6% of the points available to them (28 of 44).

Over the next six weeks – they would go 6-12-3, earning only 15 of a possible 42 points – or 35.7%.

Since the ‘Money on the Board’ movement and the monumental weekend over Detroit, the Jackets have gone 10-3-3. 23 of a possibly 32 points, or 71.8%. If you deduct the six week slide from the overall numbers, they’ve earned 55 of a possible 76, which is a .671 win percentage.

So, go out on a limb here, and suppose the slide had not happened and they had maintained the .671 over the course of the entire season.

0.671 x 59 games played thus far = 39.5 wins, or 79.2 points.

Where does that put them? Well, look at the standings.

It speaks for itself.

Buckle up, Jackets fans. The trade deadline is looming, Howson’s admitted to being a buyer, and the Blue Jackets are flourishing. This ain’t even close to over.

-

Game 58: Damn it feels good to be a gangsta

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty

Let’s talk about that win over Chicago.

First of all, let’s reiterate, it was a win over Chicago. Those always feel good, even if the teams are in a virtual tie this season and it wasn’t last year’s Stanley Cup monster. Patrick Sharp scored two goals, giving him seven for the year against the Union Blue. And the Blackhawks still lost. This is so very satisfying.

Even Anton Stralman scored a goal! Wait, what? That promised “offensive defenseman” who threatened arbitration because he thought he was worth so much money and has gone on to score exactly zero goals this season and has instead been a defensive liability? Oh yes, him! He finally scored a goal! The game-winning goal, to be specific. So props to him, at least for that.

For the 2,312,857th time: how good is Matt Calvert? Oh-so-very good. Can he be cloned? The kid has hustle and determination, and he doesn’t really care if you want to take a piggyback ride on him through two zones, he’s going to go ahead and score on your goalie anyway.

And props to Kris Russell, who saved Steve Mason‘s rear end big time tonight by whisking away what could have been a game-crushing goal for Chicago.

Instead of studs and duds, let’s just go ahead and give everybody a group butt-pat and enjoy the taste of those lovely two points. Sit the playoff discussion aside for an evening, stop the scoreboard watching, let’s just enjoy the way this team is playing right now. It feels good.

In case you missed it: Rookie John Moore played in Chicago as Marc Methot was out with an injury … Derek Dorsett was IRed to make room for him, but Moore was reassigned after the game … Derek Brassard is currently on the IR with a hand injury … Ethan Moreau (remember him?) was reactivated and played last night … the Jackets set a franchise record with their sixth straight road victory and have points in their last eight road games (courtesy of the Dispatch).

Where we stand: 29-23-6 (64 points), -4 8th place Anaheim
What’s next: Tuesday vs Nashville, 7pm, huge four-pointer

Game 57: Depleted Jackets hang on for point

Photo: Paul Vernon/AP Photo

In a game started already short their third line right winger Derek Dorsett, injury trouble was the last thing the Columbus Blue Jackets needed. On his first shift of the night, Derick Brassard was hit in the hand and would be lost at least for the immediate future. Not long after, RJ Umberger went down with an apparent knee injury. It looked grim for the Jackets, especially after a Justin Williams goal put the Kings ahead 1-0 on the scoreboard.

As they so often have this year, the Jackets regrouped and recovered. Jakub Voracek notched his eleventh goal of the season, assists going to Rick Nash and – wait for it – Derek MacKenzie. D-Mac jumped up from the fourth to the first line after two of the top six went down, and looked fantastic beside Jake and the Cap’n.

 In the second period, Loktionov put the Kings back ahead, but Nash made it look easy when he roofed a shot past Jonathan Quick, again assisted by temporary first liner MacKenzie. Tie game, end of two.

 Drew Doughty’s (boy, wouldn’t we love to have this guy) eighth goal of the season put the Kings ahead for the third time in the game, and for much of the third period it looked as if it would stay that way. Umberger returned to the game and the first line, but their shots weren’t getting through traffic, even on 1:53 of 5-on-3 power play.

 With just over a minute to go, Mathieu Garon was headed to the bench at precisely the moment Kris Russell flipped a backhander past Quick to tie the game once again. Russell, the object of many a Puck Rakers commenters’ ire for his lack of Mike Green-ness, scored his first goal since December 6th.

 On to overtime. Each time got two shots, but nothing materialized in the extra frame, and the shootout would decide this game. The Jackets were unable to get anything past Quick except for Matt Calvert himself, which to the dismay of many did not actually count. Jarret Stoll scored on Garon to seal the victory for LA.

The Jackets were far from dominant, but they were resilient tonight. In a game spent without two of their top six, at least for the majority of the time, they were able to keep the game from spiraling out of control. One point in the stands beats a goose egg, but two would’ve been twice as nice.

Tonight’s Stud: Derek MacKenzie. He saw 17:12, and was 0-2-2 with +2 and 7 hits. Very effective in his opportunity to jump up with the big boys.
Tonight’s Dud: Mathieu Garon. Specifically on the third goal, Garon was soft on the puck and sloppy. Out of character for him lately.

Where we stand: 28-23-6, 62 points, 12th place (-5, 8th place Los Angeles)
What’s next: Friday at Chicago, 8:30pm Eastern

Other notes:
The Jackets assigned D John Moore to Springfield on Tuesday. Klesla is a week or more away from playing, but the rookie needed the playing time Anton Stralman’s heightened play would not allow him.
– Derek Dorsett is hurt, but nobody’s quite sure how bad. He skated today, so it must be manageable. Though Dorsett would probably skate sans head if he could.

Game 56: Mason, Jackets hold on to keep it rolling

Photo: AP Photo/LM Otero

It was not Fedor Tyutin’s day, but luckily for the Columbus Blue Jackets, it was Steve Mason’s. Tyutin took three penalties in the game, the first of which turned into a Brad Richards goal from the corner. Luckily for the Jackets, Matt Calvert popped a Kari Lehtonen rebound right past him and into a wide-open net. Calvert looked good in his spot duty on the second line during Kristian Huselius’ temporary demotion, but since returning to the fourth line has elevated the play of the trio with Derek MacKenzie and Jared Boll.

The game would move into the second period in a 1-1 tie until Rick Nash did his Tricky Ricky thing and deked Lehtonen into sprawling across the crease so he could roof it. 2-1 Jackets, and that’s where the score would stay. Lehtonen was very good in the game, turning away 37 of 39 shots, but Steve Mason stood tall and turned away 29 of 30 at the other end. Mason has been very good lately, winning four of his last five starts, 7-3-1 in his last 11, allowing three goals or less in all but two of those.

And how about Anton Stralman? Since John Moore was up to fill the spot vacated by Rusty Klesla and his ailing knee, Stralman has elevated his play to a whole new level. He’s been solid, both on offense and defense, and helped set up Calvert’s goal early in the game. Hopefully as Moore returns to Springfield and Klesla becomes healthy, Stralman’s game remains solid.

Today’s Stud: Steve Mason (29/30, .967)
Today’s Dud: Fedor Tyutin (6PIM). Luckily for him, the PK was 5 of 6.

Where we stand: 28-23-5, 61 points, -4 from 8th place Minnesota
What’s next: Wednesday vs. Kings, 7pm

Jackets prospect Francis leaves CHL

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, prospect center Chris Francis has left his post with the Fort Wayne Komets of the CHL. Francis started the year with the Falcons, but was reassigned to Fort Wayne where he would have 17 points in 32 games played. The article mentions he had missed the previous two games with conjuctivitis (pink eye).

“It was his decision,” general manager David Franke said of Francis, who had four goals, 17 points, a minus-14 rating and 105 shots in 32 games.

Francis has returned to his home in Las Vegas and is awaiting reassignment by the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, who own his rights.

There’s not been any word from the Jackets on whether they’ll recall him to Springfield or reassign him elsewhere if at all.

By the way,  remember Jon Mirasty? The Syracuse Crunch, who had signed him after his ties to the Jackets were cut, loaned the tough guy to the Fort Wayne Komets.

Game 55: Jackets win, but lose Dorsett

For the first twenty minutes, this game had all of the makings of “one of those nights.” A lethargic, sloppy first period. Colorado as the opponent. The only thing consistent were the punches landing on Jared Boll‘s face off the fist of Cody McLeod. Philippe Dupuis broke out of the pack and netted an unassisted breakaway goal, the only scoring in the period, but after twenty minutes things were looking grim.

Photo: John Grieshop/Getty Images

But that was all the Avalanche would get. In the second period, the Jackets came back to life. Boll fought again – Koci this time, another predictable loss – and three and a half minutes later, an agitated Derek Dorsett dropped the gloves with Daniel Winnik. Another loss there that prompted a hysteric outrage from Fox Sports Ohio commentator Bill Davidge when Winnik landed a punch on Dorsett after he was down on the ice.

Not even thirty seconds later, the Jackets finally got on the board. First from Rick Nash, then seven minutes later Derick Brassard, and after two it was 2-1. They had more than doubled their shots on goal in the second, and Mathieu Garon turned aside all 13 Colorado shots.

The third period started off with a bang. Even before the first whistle, Samuel Pahlsson sent Peter Forsberg flying into the back of Dorsett’s legs, which would literally send him head over heels flying down onto his head. He would leave the game in obvious pain and not return, and head coach Scott Arniel was quoted as saying he had the symptoms of a concussion. Dorsett, who has been playing solidly on the third line with Pahlsson and their rotating left wing, took an elbow to the face against San Jose. Not a good week for the scrappy little guy.

The only other scoring would come late in the game when Derek MacKenzie sealed the deal with an empty net goal at 19:56. Colorado had only seven shots in the third period, though it felt like they all came in the final few minutes of the game as they pressured Garon. The energetic 16,000+ on hand at Nationwide were very vocal in the final frame, applauding the Union Blue when they were able to stifle any Colorado attempts to take over the game.

Studs: Easily the top line. The 61-16-93 line now has 11 points in the last 3 games.
Duds: The first period.

Notable:

  • Marc Methot and Chris Clark each had five hits. It was a good game for the oft-replaced Clark.
  • Nash had a goal and an assist, six shots, and as tweeted by CBJ PR guy Ryan Holtmann, “From Elias: With his 25th goal of the season last night Rick Nash is the only #NHL player to score 25+ goals in seven-straight seasons.”
  • Brassard has been looking better and better every game. His game-winning goal was his fourth point in the last three games.
  • The Jackets only took one minor penalty in the game – a delay of game, at that.
  • For an Avs view of the game, please check out Katie’s recap at Hockey Without Oxygen!

Where we are: 27-23-5, 59 points (12th place), -5, 8th place Calgary

What’s next: Sunday, 3pm, at Dallas.