When the Blue Jackets and Blues have gotten together over the past couple of seasons, each game generally ends in some kind of defensive, slugged-out, physical beating of a game. The Blue came in as the top goals-against team in the league at under two a game. The Jackets hadn’t scored more than three in a game, and themselves were in the top top in the league in goals-against. Looks like another hard-fought, physical beat-down defensive struggle, no? Yes… err, except for the “defensive struggle” part.
The Jackets got to Jaroslav Halak early and often, scoring three goals in each of the first two periods to take a 6-1 lead into the dressing room after two periods and to earn Scott Arniel his first real signature win as the Blue Jackets head coach, and the two teams traded physical blows all throughout the third as the penalty box became prime real-estate.
Of late for Columbus, it’s been the top line doing a lot of the scoring damage, and they wasted no time getting back into the habit again tonight. Just 6:49 into the first period, Rick Nash and Derick Brassard sprung Jakub Voracek on a break-away, and Jake ripped a shot into the upper right corner over Halak’s glove to make it 1-0. “I saw space on the high glove, and just tried to hit it as soon as I could,” Voracek said. That may sound overly simple, but for Voracek it was just his second goal of the season in 14 games. More importantly, though, is that it was his second in three games, and that signals the final piece to the top line’s puzzle.
Jared Boll (yes, you read that right!) scored the goal that really seemed to unravel this game for both Halak and the Blues. Skating in with the puck at the 10:30 mark, he worked all the way down to the goal line and just flipped it at Halak. The netminder didn’t look ready for the shot, and it snuck into the back of the net off of him. For a goalie who had been so hot, it was a very soft goal and it really seemed to open the flood-gates for the Jackets. “I’m not really sure [what happened on the shot],” Boll said. “I just got the puck deep and threw it on net, it hit his pad and bounced in, so it’s lucky.”
With the two-goal lead, the Jackets turned on the pressure and generated a lot of scoring chances in the first. Again, it was the top line doing damage. Derick Brassard and Marc Methot set up a golden scoring chance playing a little give-and-go, and while Halak stoned the initial attempt by Methot, but the puck trickled behind the net and Brassard re-gathered and fed it to a wide-open Nash in the slot who was there waiting to bury it and make it 3-0 at the 16:36 mark of the first period. “Tonight their hard work paid off,” coach Scott Arniel said. “We just stuck to what we wanted to do. I just liked the way our intensity was. I thought we were real good right from the beginning. We set the tone of the game; we didn’t wait to see what was going to happen.”
Everyone in the building who has seen these two team play the past few years knew the Blues wouldn’t go away quietly. But on this night, the Jackets would simply not give them any chance to get back into the game. Just 3:46 into the second period, Voracek again got free on a break-away set up by Kyle Wilson and Brassard, and this time he went back hand and roofed one past Halak to chase the goalie and let the Blues know that the Jackets weren’t content to sit back and play defense.
Lost in all of the scoring was the night goalie Steve Mason had for Columbus. He allowed just one goal in the second period—after a bad turn-over on defense by the Jackets in which he essentially had no chance—when the score was 4-0, but beyond that he was sharp in stopping 29-of-30 shots. “He didn’t get a lot of opportunities, especially in the first period,” Arniel said. “He made stops when he had to, and made a couple of big stops. He stepped in in tough circumstances. [Mathieu Garon] had three good games, and it was tough circumstances coming in against that team having won seven games in a row. He met the challenge.”
In the span of two and a half minutes, the Jackets would put this game away. Just 11 seconds after BJ Crombeen scored for St. Louis to make it 4-1, Chris Clark answered for Columbus. Off the faceoff, Rostislav Klesla carried it up the left side, centered it to Sammy Pahlsson at the blue line who then found Clark streaking in on the right wing unopposed. He got to Ty Conklin and beat him squarely to make it 5-1 and kill any comeback hopes the Blues might have had.
One of the biggest issues on offense for Columbus had been the lack of production from the new-look second line of Nikita Filatov, Antoine Vermette, and RJ Umberger. Barely two and a half minutes after Clark’s goal, this line finally got themselves into the scoresheet. Vermette and Filatov carried in on a 2-on-1, and Vermette made a slick pass to set Filatov up on the doorstep. The young Russian couldn’t bury the open chance, but to his credit he didn’t give up on the play. He grabbed the rebound, fought off a couple of checks behind the net to get the puck back in front, and found a wide open Umberger in the high slot who buried the biscuit to make it 6-1 and remove all doubt.
The Jackets would score two more in the early third period just 18 seconds apart, as Chris Clark got his second of the game (assists to Pahlsson and Derek Dorsett) at the 1:22 mark and Vermette would finally get his second goal of the season (from Umberger and Filatov) at the 1:40 mark. It was 8-1, 14 different players earned points, and the Blues must have figured they’d had about enough.
The game turned decidedly physical at the 5:00 mark in the third. At 5:12, Clark and Nathan Oystrick of the Blues each went off for fighting, and Dorsett earned a 10-minute misconduct. At the 8:01 mark, the Blues’ Cam Janssen got 2:00 for roughing, 2:00 for cross-checking (both on Umberger) and a 10-minute misconduct. At the 9:10 mark while on the Power Play, Voracek dropped a huge hip-check on TJ Oshie, got 2:00 for interference on the play. In the ensuring melee, Jan Hejda got 2:00 for roughing and the Blues’ David Backes got the same. And then at the 9:58 mark, an inadvertent high-stick from Umberger got him 4:00, plus the ensuing scrap between he and Brad Boyes resulted in 10-minute misconducts for both.
There were only three minor penalties through the first two periods, for six total PIMs. The game finished with both teams combining for 92 PENALTY MINUTES. This game turned chippy in a hurry, though it’s to be expected between two teams that play hard, don’t really like each other, and have a scoreboard where one team’s down seven goals to the other. Part of the bad blood apparently stemmed from a weird pre-game interaction between the teams in a concourse soccer game. “Somewhere around the third period I heard about it on the bench,” Arniel said. “I’m sure that security will look after that the next time.”
When you score eight goals, obviously guys are getting it done. We’ve chronicled how good the top line has been of late, and tonight was no exception. Voracek was a nice addition to the scoresheet, however. Overall, the top line combined for three goals, four assists, and was a combined +8 on the night. But, the second line finally showed that they, too, can score: they combined for two goals, four assists, and were a combined +6. “I think the last three or four games I’ve really seen our chemistry on our line come together,” Umberger said.
This is by far the most impressive win of the season and of Scott Arniel’s early tenure as coach. But, as he always does, he reminded everyone afterward that one game does not a season or team make. “I’d just say that it’s a big divisional win for us against an opponent that we’re going to see five more times,” Arniel said. “I’m sure the next time we play them they’re gonna be a little bit sour. To me, you’ve just gotta take it one at a time. We earned our two points tonight. But, we have to put this behind us and move on to the next one. It’s one game; it’s two points. We have to start fresh on Friday.”
The Jackets have one more home game on Friday against the Colorado Avalanche at 7 PM, and then head out west for their first non-Sweden road trip (i.e., more than one game) of the season. They’ll hit the So Cal corridor beginning in LA next Wednesday.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Vernon