For the third straight game, the Columbus Blue Jackets took to the ice and accomplished the (arguably) inconceivable. Yes, prior to this season, backs were turned, basements were determined, and most analysts gave little thought to the current structure of this team.
Yet the boys in Union Blue continue to offer some of the most enjoyable hockey we fans have seen in this city for years. Passion? Heart? Tenacity? It is most certainly all there. They may be void of pure, raw, superstar talent, but the additions to the roster between Springfield call-ups and new acquisitions have allowed this team to have a legitimate heart beat.
Tonight, without considering the final score, was the NINTH straight game that was decided by a single goal. In addition to that obscene total, this marks the FIFTH straight game that needed additional time to produce a winner. At the current record of 8-12-4 I would hardly deem this team worthy of the ‘kardiac kids’ (yes, a Canadian can reference football) label, but I have been noticeably drawn back into games after feeling numb through their first fifteen games.
To the game this evening. More than 75% of the building was occupied to watch the Jackets take on a strong Vancouver team looking to rebound after losses to Calgary and San Jose. Bobrovsky and Schneider got the start in net, with Schneider coming off a .933 save percentage, and Bobrovsky off a 21 for 21 save effort after replacing Mason on Tuesday.
Disaster struck early when Dorsett, skating in on goal, took a heavy shot from Alberts. Rumours in the later stages of the game suggested his injury (fractured clavicle) will sideline him for the remainder of this season. While Dorsett is not a team leader in scoring, his intangibles will make his absence quite noticeable on both sides of the ice.
Despite the loss of Dorsett, Columbus managed to play yet another solid game. Their turnovers and bad decision making were kept to a minimum (with the exclusion of an absolutely horrid turnover by Johnson in the third period leading to breakaway), and while they had four more giveaways, they also had seven more takeaways.
The lone Jackets goal came off the stick of RJ Umberger, however, the credit should go mainly to Nick Foligno, who utilized his impressively shifty stride to get past a couple Vancouver defenders to produce a wrap around scoring chance that hit the post. Quick thinking on Umberger’s part allowed him to hammer home the rebound while Johansen was tied up in front of the net.
On the other side of the ice, Bobrovsky stood tall for the second straight game, turning away 34 of 35 shots, failing only to a bad ricochet onto the stick of Henrik Sedin. It was hardly a goal I could imagine blaming on him, and countless key saves and swallowed pucks gave Columbus every chance to win both in regulation and in overtime. It was the kind of effort you trust your number one netminder to make against a strong opponent like Vancouver.
The next integral part of the Blue Jackets success falls directly on the penalty kill. Only allowing a single powerplay (which was killed), the Blue Jackets have now killed their last 18 penalties, improving their success rate to 85.5%, good for 7th in the NHL. For a team dwelling amongst the league worst in overall points, this stat has continued to impress.
With all that build up, the highlight of the night came on the stick of Matt Calvert. Taking the puck from his own blueline, the young winger pushed the puck past two separate Canucks, made a great cut into the middle of the ice, and beat Schneider short side over the glove to win the game in overtime. The confidence and tenacity we have seen from Calvert this year has been excellent, and I personally hope to see some of the other young talent to take note.
I have said it on twitter numerous times, but I think it is worth saying again. This team was a throwaway for most analysts at the start of the year (some more outlandish than others), respected very little by opponents fans, and cast aside by local naysayers. What they have continued to produce over their last ten games proves that there are in fact players in this organization who take the game as seriously as we do (and probably more). But more importantly, they have proven that while this team is at a low point in the ‘new age’ of Davidson and Kekalainen, the on ice production can and is still enjoyable to watch.
I would go as far as saying these last handful of games have been some of the best Columbus based hockey I have seen in years. Hockey CAN live in this city, and while the raw talent may be lacking, this team is still worth watching.
Carry the Flag.