The first puck of the 2013/2014 season dropped last night around 7:15pm in a packed Nationwide Arena. With another impressive fan showing to start the season, many were expecting the same ultra high level of intensity we enjoyed for much of the short 2012/2013 season. What they got was a different looking roster, a different looking team, yet an eerily similar result.
The Flames are not exactly an offensive powerhouse. They have a decent compliment of forwards, but it is not the type of team you see on the ticket and think “this is really going to be a tough battle for Columbus.” Really, it was the perfect type of team to bring in for the home opener to get some momentum built for the start of the season. Unfortunately for those who share that mindset, they were witness to pretty even play between both sides, with a lot of ‘feeling out’ from the Blue Jackets players and their linemates.
Early in the game, Coach Richards demoted Boone Jenner, in favor of Blake Comeau, from playing on the top line with Dubinsky and Gaborik. While I can appreciate the adjustments on the fly in order to get the right types of players together, elevating Comeau that high in the lineup doesn’t make sense to me. Comeau is a limited talent forward who has a nice level of grit, but is hardly suited to play alongside players of that ilk. I fear that moving bodies in this nature will bring the collective talent of the top line downwards unnecessarily.
It was nice to see the shots favor Columbus (32-20) after a season of being outshot pretty regularly, however, the shots needs to get better. We have seen what thirty meaningless shots will do plenty of times throughout Columbus history, and Joey MacDonald is far from an NHL superstar netminder. If the Jackets want to score big against any opponent, the puck movement will need to improve, as will the presence in front of the net. Numerous times throughout the game, the puck was loose in front of a disheveled MacDonald, yet no lamp was lit.
A positive to take away from the game was the faceoffs. A point of concern for the last couple of years, Columbus was again favored quite handily (31-20) and I hope that is a trend that continues. Dubinsky (10 of 15), Anisimov (8 of 13), and MacKenzie (8 of 13) were the main contributors.
Defensively, there have been better performances. Arguably the biggest mistake of Ryan Murray’s very young NHL career was the pass across to Wisniewski, which was intercepted by TJ Galiardi and deposited behind Bobrovsky on the ensuing breakaway. Don’t spend too much time concerning yourselves with that mistake, as the timing at the NHL level takes a bit of getting used to, and where that play would have likely had an extra second in junior hockey, the gap closes a lot faster in the NHL. No doubt, Murray took a lot away from that game, and will continue to improve. Aside from a couple glaring timing issues, his game actually looked quite good.
Wisniewski left a lot to be desired. I often watch him and wonder how he can have such finesse with the puck and make great plays one minute, and then have a total mental meltdown the next. I worry about that pairing with Murray and how much of the ‘good’ Wiz rubs off instead of the ‘What are you doing Wiz.’ In any case, I hope he can become a more consistent defenseman for Columbus, especially when I watch him thread a perfect pass through two lines across the ice to a streaking Gaborik. That pass has the potential to becoming VERY lethal.
Coaching had me a bit concerned, but this is much of what we saw early last year. It seemed like Richards just did not know who to put where and how long to wait before shuffling, yet ten games into the season, everything absolutely clicked. I hope to see that wait be shortened this season, and with how much success his system had last year, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Bobrovsky made a few key saves throughout the game, but I think the rebound leading to the Monahan goal on a pretty pedestrian shot from Stempniak, and the impossible angle slapshot by Hudler are goals he would want back. That’s the difference in a 4-3 loss and a 3-2 victory, and the difference from .867 to .931 in save percentage. Unsurprisingly, nearly identical totals to his 2012/2013 save percentage. They will need him to make those key saves this year.
The Jackets are in New York tonight to face the Islanders. A young, potent offense awaits a team that I hope is up to the challenge and is ready to work hard. As the saying went last year, “60 Minutes. No excuses. No Regrets.”
Carry the Flag.