In his post-game comments, Ken Hitchcock noted that it was a big deal that the Jackets leaped over Colorado into the 8th spot in the Western Conference -- noting that it is always better to be above that red, black or green line that they put after the number 8 team in each conference. To be above the line in January, with Nash, Brassard, Chimera, Torres, LeClaire, Novotny, Tollefson, Murray out, is a very big deal indeed.
Tonight was a Minnesota Wild game wrapped around a Pittsburgh Penguins game. For the first two periods, and the first and last parts of the third period, this was a defensive, neutral zone chess match. Watching Colorado set up their defense was deja vu to last Saturday against the Wild. They collapsed down low, keeping us from establishing our game below the goal line. We stifled their entries and otherwise kept them pretty much to the perimeter. The two young goalies, sporting #1 on their backs, were pretty strong, with both having surrendered their lone goals on rebounds.
Then, there was the 3:41 of the third period, when the two teams played like it was an exhibition game of 3-on-3. First came Russell's absolutely sick pass to Umberger in the crease on the power play. The exuberance lasted all of 50 seconds, when Chris Stewart leaned in and knocked one home from the right dot that Mason would surely like to have back. (New Flash: Mason is human!) Undaunted, just 65 seconds later, Malhotra and Huselius execute a perfect give and go, and the lead is ours. We keep a strong forecheck, and Peca pots a rebound 30 seconds later. A whole 71 seconds goes by before Mackenzie gets called for hooking, and just 5 seconds later the whole CBJ defense, including Mason, is out of position, and the Avs sink the power play goal to close within one. Sanity returns at that point, and Hitch-Hockey takes over for the remainder of the game.
Big home win -- here are the +/- rankings for tonight:
+ Crowd -- I was frankly worried as warm-ups concluded, but the typical late arriving CBJ crowd made a good showing for a cold Tuesday night, and were actively engaged. Hitch said after the game that there is an energy now that the players can feel, as well as a sense of expectation on the part of the fans that the team "will keep its foot on the gas". Good stuff . . .
+ Offensive Zone Play -- While it was a 1 goal game, and shots were only 1 apart (27 CBJ to 26 Avs), the CBJ dominated the offensive zone for long periods of time. Though the Avs defense frustrated us early, the third and fourth lines refused to surrender the puck, which really created some energy in the house and carried over to the other lines. Our forecheck became increasingly effective as the game progressed. Though Colorado had 3 goals, and some periods of pressure, there was never the feeling of extended dominance as there was with the CBJ tonight.
+ Attention to Detail -- We again did many of the little (and not so little) things well. We were patient with the puck in our own zone, and got the puck out under pressure time after time. We are getting much better in knowing when to dump and when to carry the puck through the zone. Russell is a master at this. We dominated the faceoff circle 32-17, held our own with hits, and surrendered only 4 power plays, though the first two relatively early had me concerned.
+ Attitude -- These guys just will never give up. Huge goal by Voracek at the end of the first to knot it up, as it was clear Colorado was going to be content playing for a 1 - 0 win. We took them out of that mode. It was great listening to Peca, Umberger and Voracek after the game, talking about how they knew they could dominate the third. Another 3 goal third period -- really good stuff.
+ Individuals -- Huselius, Russell, Malhotra, Picard, Boll, Peca, Umberger, Voracek were all huge. Backman had perhaps his most solid game, making some nice plays at both ends. Filatov is scary -- so good with the puck, knows where to create space, head always up. 25 more pounds is all he needs. Modin was unspectacular but solid, and Tyutin and Commodore turned in their usual good work. Mackenzie and MacDonald each showed energy in spots.
-Youthful Exuberance -- Hitch has talked all year about the roller coaster ride we will all be on with these kids, and that 3:41 of the 3rd showed what he meant. In the offensive zone, we were like piranha after a leg of lamb -- we smelled blood and were attacking relentlessly. The down side was that in the process we forgot all of the Hitch fundamentals of play in the other two zones. We were so anxious to get back to the offensive zone to score again that the PK totally blew the Avs third goal, and Mason and the defense kind of snoozed through the 2nd goal. No big deal, as it was fun to watch . . . sort of.
-Filatov Minutes -- OK, this is not really a minus from the team perspective, but it's my blog, so I reserve the right to be selfish. I kept looking for Filatov to come on the ice, and was frustrated I didn't see him more. I know -- Hitch knows what he is doing, but still . . .
A blue collar victory, making it 7 of the last 9, and 8 of the last 9 at home. The Russell-Umberger and Huselius-Malhotra plays are things that very good hockey teams do, and we are starting to do them every game. Different contributors each night, and a good measure of competitive composure.
In Puck-Rakers, the boys have been pulling lyrics from songs to make their points lately. How about this oldie, which kind of describes the Jackets over the last little bit:
. . . Comin' home to a place he'd never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door
-- John Denver "Rocky Mountain High"
Sorry, couldn't resist a little Colorado dig here. Go Jackets!