The Columbus Blue Jackets spent the first 35 minutes of their game in LA Saturday night making a good case for not belonging in the NHL. This on the heels of a 6-0 drubbing in Anaheim the night before, which even the Columbus paper said was not as close as the score. The Dispatch also described the team’s current slump of three losses (four after the LA game) as turning the 10th season of the club into “a cap on a decade of drudgery.”
The problem is not theirs alone, but must be borne by the teams they play when they venture West, for instance. Friday night in Anaheim, they and the Ducks drew just 12,815 against a capacity of 17,174. This could partly be Anaheim’s fault, of course, but think about it—if the home team were to advertise, what would they say? “Come see a team from a place where few people care about hockey, a place that’s not on the map for anything other than college football, and which has never won anything in the NHL, including a single playoff game.”
They could advertise that fans should come see Rick Nash, and maybe the fact that the Staples Center was sold out Saturday night betrays a sophistication on the part of LA fans, knowledgeable that they would see one of the game’s stars. It certainly wasn’t the Kings’ recent 0-4 record at home which drew people.
Had they come to see Nash, LA fans would have been treated to a topsy-turvy game where he scored twice in a 6-4 loss. At times, he dominated, taking the puck to the net effortlessly. In fact, his work almost saw his team come back to tie the game with a minute left. The Jackets had started out down 4-0, and lifeless. They couldn’t move the puck into the zone, and they didn’t do anything with it when they got it there.
The Kings, despite going up by four, weren’t great, especially on the forecheck, but their forwards were moving the puck nicely across the blueline, backing off the Columbus defense, and they potted three goals in the first period.
Things were so bad for Columbus that the Kings got a shorthanded goal in the second when the entire Columbus squad but one exited the ice while LA worked the puck up to their zone. It was like nobody was paying attention, and the score was the aforementioned 4-0 and looked like a wrap.
But the Kings have a way of collapsing — as they did Thursday night against Nashville — and this time it started with a puck that went off a Columbus stick and through Jonathan Quick as he tried to play it with his stick. After the game, Quick said that Coach Terry Murray had talked about how well the team had played early while they were in the dressing room for the second intermission.
“He talked about getting back to all the things we were doing right for that first 30 and continue to build off that,” said the Kings goalie.
Quick’s gaffe started a slide which saw the score go to 4-3 before LA scored again.
Meanwhile, his opposite number, Mathieu Garon, was playing a whale of a middle period as he faced 11 mostly dangerous shots.
“We competed really hard the second half, but it’s hard to come back when you’re down 4-0,” Garon said. “We did a great job coming close to it, but better starts would make it easier.
“Last night looked like tonight, but for the whole night. We played a terrible game, terrible game overall yesterday, and the first half of tonight was the same, but after that we played a lot better.”
The Jackets made it back to 5-4, and with about a minute left, Nash took the puck to the front of the net, where he was mugged and knocked down by Willie Mitchell, back to the Kings after missing time with an injury. He also took a cross-check to the face in the crease as he went down.
“I’m getting so frustrated with…I’m a young guy, a young coach in the league, but to watch Rick Nash what he has to take night after night in this league, and I watch other star players and the treatment they get and the calls that they get,” said a frustrated Scott Arniel after his team’s loss. “He gets tackled going to the net, he gets a stick in the face, no call.”
I’m thinking the guy knows a mugging when he sees one, since he played over seven hundred NHL games as well as seven seasons in the minors after his NHL career was over, and it’s a good bet that you don’t get 116, 121, and 102 PIMs in the IHL without doling out some punishment. The scars on his face attest that that.
“I don’t get it,” Arniel continued. “We try to be, you know, I’ve really worked with this team about no yellling at the referees, not making them part of the focus, but after a while, you know what, I’ve said it before, maybe you’ve got to do a lot more crying and complaining. The stuff Rick takes for the superstar that he is, um, it really pisses me off. In a game, in a situation like that, you’re sure going to call, there wasn’t a call, and it makes everybody a little bit frustrated.”
“It could be a little bit of that. I know that we don’t have a lot of top-end star players, and sometimes when you have more of those guys, those veteran kind of guys, you can, uh, be politically correct, or you can manage the referees a little bit better,” added Arniel. “We’re a young team, and, we don’t get a whole lot of respect at times.”
To go back to the earlier theme, maybe that’s pretty good proof in and of itself that Columbus has no business having a hockey team? They have only one star player because they don’t spend to the cap, and there are only so many players available in a talent-diluted league. Twenty-four teams, for instance, could share the wealth of player talent much better. That not to mention that the building in Columbus is one-quarter empty each night, the team drawing about 13,000 against a 17,000 capacity.
In the late going, the chance to tie the game was made easier when LA iced the puck twice due to poor decision-making, which reflects the fact that the team should feel fortunate not to have blown their lead.
But on the other side of things, Columbus took a too many men penalty with about a minute to go, something that Don Cherry says is always the coach’s fault. Arniel didn’t see it that way, explaining, “the young kid, there, didn’t see whether someone came off there.”
“It was a good third period, a good second half of the second period, but on the road, you can’t get down like that,” Nash said.
About Quick’s somewhat suspect performance (three of the goals came off his mishandles or positioning errors), Nash said, “It was the first time we tested him. We didn’t test him until after he let that one in, you know, it was a mistake that gave us some momentum.”
For his part, Quick was focused only on the win.
“We got two points out of it,” he said, “We knew Columbus was going to be a bit tired from the game last night. Back-to-backs aren’t easy, but at the same time, you have to respect them. They’re a good team. They’re a good hockey club, right behind us in the playoff race.”
“It’s a good line,” Quick said about Nash and his line. “Nash is one of the best players in the league, but at the same time, every team is is going to have a player like that. He scored a couple of goals, I think he had two goals in the third period, but at the end of the day, we got two points.”
When I asked him whether they are looking at the standings at this stage, he said, “It’s an extremely tight race. We were fourth before that little [losing] skid. You lose a few games, you drop out of the playoff picture, and you’ve got to climb right back into it.”
The Jackets came into the night two points behind the Kings and in 13th place. And while they still remain in 13th after the loss, the Kings jumped back to eighth.
The Kings announced the signing of Jack Johnson to a seven-year deal.
Pat Sajak was in the rink, wearing a black windbreaker.