A little over 10,400 Blue Jackets faithful showed up to Nationwide Arena last night to see if our hometown team could finally deliver a regulation win against the Dallas Stars based on the “never be outworked” philosophy that was promised this season. After some early back and forth, it was confirmed that both Jagr and Benn would be in the lineup, and the placement of Lehtonen in goal promised us a good challenge for the match up.
The early part of last night didn’t show much promise. We were outskated, continued to play poorly in the neutral zone, and did not seem to be up to the challenge of another game so quickly after the
tie loss to Chicago. The Blue Jackets execution on the power play was non-existent early on in the game. This included the inability to capitalize on an 5-on-3 opportunity that seemed to seal our fate and cement the fact that the goals just weren’t going to come this year. It was nearing the end of the second, with the boo birds coming out, that I found myself with some rationalizations “Well, at least there’s hockey”; “Hey, at least we’re facing a #1 goalie and not a back-up”.
But somehow this team found a way to win. Derek Dorsett sparked the team with a beautiful drive to the net that he was able to hit home. Dorse has been playing smarter hockey this year, with some poor fights thrown in, but arguably this play redeemed his effort from Saturday when he hadn’t the hands to pot the puck. Tonight karma gave DD his first of the season.
It was then that other key guys started to make themselves known. Brandon Dubinsky – who we are still awaiting a first goal from – played hard defensively. Ryan Johansen has certainly seemed to shake some of the negatives of his game last year and earlier in Springfield. The Johan was finishing checks, skating hard and had an eye for the puck that was exciting to see. This boy is due his first goal as well.
I was also quite surprised to see Colton Gilles show up with a good performance. He was knocking that big body all over the ice and, particularly in the third, kept the intensity high. Perhaps the opportunity to finally take the ice with his team was the additional motivation he needed.
Let us not forget Vinny Prospal with the game winning goal. Vinny became our ambassador of “don’t quit” last season and his goal tonight was proof that philosophy works. What looked an attempt just to get the puck closer to the net turned into a sneaky corner shot that became Vinny’s second of the year.
I’d be remiss if we didn’t spend a second on goaltending. Bobrovsky continues to bring a solid game to the ice; however, it was interesting to note that many seemed to be less adamant that Bob start over Mason. What differentiates the two, and was most evident last night, is the calm that Bob brings to the net. He responds to play with a sense of control and coolness that certainly infects the team around him. Arguably, we haven’t had such a presence in net since Mason’s Calder year and it is a welcome addition to the attitude and psyche of the team.
There are still things to work on. When we actively cheer a successful transition through the neutral zone because it actually worked for once, that’s a sign that we’re still making too many errant passes and not providing the necessary speed to move to our offensive game. Speaking of speed, the “dump and chase” philosophy can continue to be effective…as long as we can get to the puck. There is a definite need for speed on this team – one that we should continue to watch for – it may be one of the few insurmountable forces to the “work hard” ethic.
All in all it was an enjoyable night at Nationwide Arena. The first two points for the boys in Union Blue in regulation. As the team awoke and returned to their “leave it on the ice” play, the fans responded and the roar at the end of the game was proof that this was a team to support and celebrate. While patience was being preached, this win was significant not only to counterbalance the four game slide we were in, but also to buoy the boys before they head out to face Minnesota in just 24 hours time. This schedule continues to prove it’s intolerance for rest – the team is off to face the Wild tonight, before returning home for St. Louis Thursday and Detroit again Saturday.