It was bound to happen, sooner or later, given the Columbus Blue Jackets were playing their third consecutive NHL division leader, but interim coach Claude Noel experienced his first lost as a Blue Jackets coach, by a score of 4-3, against the prolific, talented and physical Vancouver Canucks. A total of 16,564 loyal fans braved the winter elements to witness another solid performance by the CBJ in a losing effort.
It was quite an entertaining game which was decided by one of the more fluky goals you will ever witness, by Vancouver’s Mikael Samuelsson at 7:56 of the third period, a shot that was redirected by Blue Jackets’ center Derick Brassard in the high slot and sent high into the air, which then fluttered approximately 15-20 feet in the air and over the back of the head of goalie Steve Mason. The game was a very energetic, fast—paced, physical affair, offering lots of ‘back and forth’ action, on both ends of the ice.
While the team experienced its first loss under Noel, there were positives to take away from the loss. Noel, in his post game press conference, thought the team not only handled adversity well, but that improvements were made from the prior game, particularly in their skating, which he believes will serve them well for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, and will continue after they return from their Winter Olympic break.
As usual, here’s the good, the bad and what needs to be improved.
Raffi Torres: Torres netted his 18th goal of the season, which was a set up by two spectacular passes from Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek, as Torres was coming out of the penalty box, for an infraction. If anything, besides the ability to mesh with the two second—year players, Torres’ performance was also an impressive showcase for future trade offers (Torres’ contract runs out at the end of this season, and it’s been widely speculated he’ll be traded before the NHL trade deadline).
Jared Boll/Fourth Line: For scoring a goal, which, at the time, appeared to get Columbus energized and into the game, as Columbus and Vancouver exchanged early goals, rather quickly into the action. After Boll’s goal, the game settled down for the next period and a half, with Columbus posting a 2-1 lead. Any time you can get point production out of your fourth line, it’s always a bonus.
Handling Adversity: Yes, the Blue Jackets surrendered a fluky goal, as well as surrendering a goal off of a gaffe by Mason, the description of which will be addressed later in the analysis—but, after a timeout, the Blue Jackets posted a furious attempt at tying the game up, only to fall short in the waning seconds. Rather than fall into the usual pattern of sulking, the Blue Jackets dealt with adversity and almost pulled out the victory. This was the first test that awaited the ‘new look’ Blue Jackets, so, it’s safe to say that this team has not yet quit and will learn and grow from this experience.
Rick Nash: The Blue Jackets captain extended his point—scoring streak to six games. It was almost the fastest goal by the Blue Jackets to start a game—22 seconds into the game. The record for the team is also held by Nash, when he scored ten seconds into the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006.
Claude Noel: For his decision to have Brassard and Voracek out on the ice for the waning seconds of the penalty kill, which resulted in the Torres’ goal. Putting two of his better offensive players out on the ice in such a situation is not only clever, it’s brilliant. It’s a pretty shrewd move for a guy coaching in only his fourth NHL game.
Steve Mason: It is safe to say Mason did not have a very good game. To summarize, Mason had the puck slide off his stick behind the net on a clearing attempt, and the result was a Vancouver goal. Vancouver’s Steve Bernier recovered the loose puck and fired the puck on net, with the rebound kicking back to Kyle Wellwood, for an easy goal. It was simply a tough night for a player who was so spectacular for the previous three games. This much can be said, however: Mason owned up to his mistake, something not often heard by him, this season, and his performance, while not his best, was not the complete meltdown he’d often experienced—a solid game followed by a clunker—with such regularity in his sophomore season.
Not holding a Third Period Lead: In failing to hold a third period lead for the eighth time this season, the Blue Jackets are now tied with the St. Louis Blues for the ignominious distinction.
Room for Improvement
The power play continued to struggle: Although the Canucks committed only two penalties, once again, the Blue Jackets didn’t capitalize on their power play opportunities. Although there were more prime scoring chances, the continued woes of not enough urgency, not enough spacing, not enough crisp passing and not enough puck movement resulted in a game in which missed opportunities came back to haunt the team.
Up next, the Blue Jackets host the Blackhawks, one of the rising and respected powers in the NHL, for a Sunday evening game–the last contest before the Olympic break. So, a victory against a Central Division foe, would be quite the lift before their two week breaks commences.