Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Who is this team, and what have they done with the Columbus Blue Jackets?

In Pittsburgh, everybody showed up to play. The defense was solid – especially the play of frequent scapegoat Anton Stralman. Paired with Hejda, he was a +4 (note: actually +3, the NHL’s statistics gave him credit for the first goal, which he was not on the ice for). Rick Nash got the scoring going early with a beautiful one-timer fed by Derick Brassard. Samuel Pahlsson scored on a delayed penalty, Voracek on a partial break, and Vermette tucked one through on a Pittsburgh giveaway to lead the Jackets to a 4-1 victory.

Cue the excuses. Pittsburgh has no Crosby. No Malkin. No Kunitz. Despite injury trouble, Pittsburgh is (including the L to the Jackets), 7-3-0 in their last ten. That is not a struggling team. The Jackets were simply a better team than the Penguins last night, and for that they prevailed on the scoreboard.

 

Photo: Terry Gilliam/AP Photo

And then they came home to meet San Jose…

For the first twenty minutes, they were buzzing. With two big power play goals from Kristian Huselius and Grant Clitsome, it was suddenly 2-0 Jackets with a whole forty left to go. Unfortunately, the chances stopped coming, despite a massive 44 shots on goal. Niemi stood tall after the first, even when guys like Derek Dorsett and Jakub Voracek peppered him relentlessly with shots (8 and 7, respectively). Even with San Jose’s three unanswered goals, the foot was never entirely off the gas pedal, perhaps just slowed in the middle frame. A heartbreaker. Can’t win them all, but it would have been nice to take that one. 

Where we are: 12th place, Western Conference, -6 points from eighth place Calgary

What’s next: Friday vs. the Foote-less Colorado, 7pm

 

(Photo: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

It started off ugly, and much like many nights the Columbus Blue Jackets have seen this year: lazy defensive plays, penalty trouble, screened shots, and a 2-0 opponent lead before the first period had even settled down. RJ Umberger ignited some life into the team late in the first when some criss-crossing plays with Derek Dorsett cut the deficit in half. It would be just the beginning of what would turn out to be one of Umberger’s career nights with the Blue Jackets.

Kristian Huselius, who one night before in Detroit had become the most recent victim of Arniel’s doghouse, returned in place of Chris Clark. Combined with Umberger, the two were responsible for all four goals and creating opportunities that prior to his benching, Huselius was not finding. The game was tied at two in the second period when Umberger and Huselius connected in front of the net, drawing Khabibulin aside to allow Huselius a half-empty net to shoot at.

John Moore in his NHL Debut (Photo: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

The third period would be a brand new game. One that, as usual, the Oilers would jump out to an early lead in, when Paajarvi would net his second of the game. But Umberger, with two points already in his pocket, wouldn’t let the game go so easily. He took the puck from Kris Russell and worked through all kinds of traffic to get the puck past Khabibulin and tie the game yet again on his nineteenth goal of the season. Huselius would give the Jackets the lead for good just over two minutes later when Russell – the puck moving defenseman – did just that and moved it up the ice to Umberger, who handed it to Huselius to beat Khabibulin. 4-3 Jackets, and that would be the final score. For a team who looked awful in the early going, they recovered nicely on a monster night by their second-line forwards.

Tonight’s Stud: RJ Umberger, of course. Two goals, two assists, and yet another three-period 100% effort by Umberger. Honorable mention: Kristian Huselius.
Tonight’s Dud(s): Russell and Clitsome were out for all four Columbus goals, but gave up a few brilliant chances to the Oilers. Can’t happen that way. Honorable mention: the first line – combined for 13 shots, but all three were minus two with little legitimate offensive impact.

 Notes:
Despite penalty trouble early on, all seven goals were even strength.
— Umberger now has 19 goals, just 7 off his career-high of 26 with the Jackets in 2008-09. Twelve points off his career high of 50.
— Russell, probably partially responsible for the first Oilers’ goal, managed to finish the game a +2 with two assists. The fourth-year defenseman had an ugly night, but was out for all four Columbus goals.
John Moore made his NHL debut and played 12:05. He was a -1, but had a relatively quiet night on the ice. He didn’t look overly nervous or jittery at all.
— Rookie Matt Calvert played just 5:07, only taking four shifts after receiving a high stick in the first. Back on the fourth line after a one-game promotion, he and his linemates all played five minutes or under.
— Three players had a multi-point night: Umberger (4), Huselius (3), and Russell (2).
— This team is not afraid to throw their weight around: Methot & Murray each had six hits. Derek Mackenzie had 3 in just 4:17 TOI.
Rick Nash had eight shots on goal. Yes, eight.

NEXT GAME: Tuesday at Pittsburgh, 7pm.