After a relatively successful European road trip to start off the Columbus Blue Jackets 2010-11 season, expectations were high to open their season in the States and in the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena.
While they were facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, the ‘Hawks are also a depleted team. Not only is it because all of the players were traded away to pare down their salary cap-busting payroll, but the rash of injuries to Patrick Kane and Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson’s two-game suspension have also depleted the current roster.
Add to that the excitement of the pre-game festivities to celebrate the Blue Jackets 10th season in the National Hockey League, complete with appearances of former Blue Jackets and footage from their inaugural campaign, and a Standing Room Only of 18,305 were chomping at the bit to see the new look Blue Jackets take on the seemingly vulnerable Blackhawks.
And then they dropped the puck.
The Blackhawks came in a drilled a listless Blue Jacket team by a score of 5-2. But the game was never as close as the score would indicate. The Blue Jackets were manhandled, caught in numerous odd-man rushes and generally out-worked in every facet of the game, and Marty Turco was spectacular when he needed to be to keep the Blackhawks in the game before the rout ensued.
The game’s number one star, Patrick Sharp, was indicative of the dominance the Blackhawks had on this night, posting a new team record for shots on goal with 13 and registering two goals.
One of the goals was assisted by Jake Dowell, but it should also have had the Blue Jackets Antoine Vermette being credited with an assist. While the Blue Jackets were on the power play and only trailing 2-1, Vermette veered towards the right half-wall in his offensive zone and attempted a no-look pass between his legs. The only problem was there was no Blue Jacket there to receive it and Dowell swiped the puck and rushed down the ice for an easy pass and goal for Sharp at the 9:40 mark of the period.
That was the play that turned the game around, for good, but there were plenty of mistakes and defenseless goals that neither Steve Mason nor even Patrick Roy could have stopped.
“That was a big, fat egg we laid,” said new Jackets coach Scott Arniel when summing up the Blue Jackets’ performance. “System-wise, we were loose. All the games we’ve played, exhibitions with all the kids we’ve had in there, that’s the loosest we’ve been since we’ve been trying to get things going here. Everything we tried to do backfired on us. All 20 players had a tough night.”
Most frustrating and most disturbing for both their fans and for the organization is this continued propensity for the Blue Jackets to “lay an egg” almost every time they draw a large crowd. Except for the improbable back-to-back home victories against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins during the Blue Jackets 2008-09 playoff run, this ability to absolutely be blown out by opponents during sellout or near sellout crowds is almost linear. And for a team struggling with winning back a fan base, this was truly an opportunity lost.