As the Jacket's began to mesh early in the season, the offensive load was taken up by the Goat line -- Chimera, Brassard, Voracek-- two youngsters and one self-described "old goat'. (The mere fact that Chimera can even consider referring to himself as an "old goat" at the ripe old age of 29 speaks volumes about the young talent on this team.) I digress, however. With Brassard and Chimera down, the Goat mantle fell upon the shoulders of Michael Peca, with Voracek and Nikita Filatov as his young proteges. The results? The first-ever hat trick by a Bluejackets rookie, 8 points for the line (3 goals and 5 assists) and a combined +9. They spearheaded a rock solid team effort that led to a 4 - 2 victory over the Minnesota Wild, acheiving a nice 4 point swing against a playoff rival, and finishing off an impressive back to back double over the past two nights.
Make no mistake, this was what has become a typical Bluejackets/Wild affair -- hard checking, stifling defense, tons of play in the neutral zone, and little free space in which to operate. Considering the disputed 2 - 1 loss and the 3 -2 shootout loss to the Wild in their house earlier this season, this game was a veritable orgy of scoring, with the CBJ tallying 4 goals, including 3 in the third. After a great heads up play by Filatov to put us on the board first, followed by a flukey, fluttering Wild goal that Mason never saw, the mood in the house was that of a close boxing match. Everyone knew that some small mistake, a tiny opening, would crack the defense and provide the knockout. That knockout came in the third, via Dorsett and Filatov.
+/- for the night:
+ Filatov -- what a night this kid had! The first goal had the puck crossing the goal line just before Filatov joined the puck in the net. The second was an absolute laser beam from a steep angle on the left that zipped past Harding on the near post before he knew what happened. The last time I saw a shot like that was from the same spot on November 29th, 2008, and it was Ovechkin shooting. (Mason caught it). The third was pure hustle, and being in the right place. In between, he dropped to the ice and made a nice block of a scoring opportunity, kept the puck in motion, and was always in the right spot. He had some comical moments as well, including a rather dramatic whiff of a pass as he came down the left wing. Listening to him on the post-game shows, it is clear this young man has it all together. (By the way, consider that the hat trick was done on 5 shots in just 9:59 of ice time!)
+ Peca, Voracek -- The Goat II line was scary in how comfortable they look together. Just as playing with Nash and Huselius has elevated Malhotra's game, Peca has flourished of late, with this being just the latest, and best example. Voracek is becoming a monster, though I still wish he would shoot more!
+ Patience -- We played another Hitchcock game -- generating offense from the back end. We were careful with the puck, made the most of our chances, and got 30 shots on goal, which is a lot against a Minnesota team that is notoriously stingy. Only 2 penalties other than the too many men penalty in the third, and a meaningless call after the game was decided.
+ Crowd -- Whille not a sellout, likely 17K + were there, and enthusiastically greeeted the boys' return from the road, and were loud during the game, waving the freebie towels with great abandon. Lots of hats made it to the ice for Nikita's hat trick, and more stayed for the 3 Stars and the Filatov interview. Good stuff!!!
+ Defense -- Great support, presence of mind and constantly frustrated Minnesota in their effort to get something going. The first goal was a fluttering, seeing-eye shot from the point that Mason never saw. The second, a power play goal after the game was decided, was likewise the result of a screen. Mason was solid all night, and the defense gave him room. Defense was likewise patient with the puck, and penalty kill was good, surrendering a meaningless goal at the end.
+ Individuals -- Besides the Goat II line, Tyutin and Commodore were strong, and Russell got his game back as well. Dorsett was monsterous. Malhotra continued his strong play, and Modin and Huselius were strong contributors as well. Mason, of course. Methot had a good game as well. Picard showed strong, and made a great play to set up Dorsett's goal.
- Injury -- Murray left with an "upper body injury" and did not return. He is day to day according to Hitchcock.
The ingredients for a let down were all there--end of long road trip, big win over tough opponent, late flight home, injury depleted roster. Somebody forgot to tell the team. They had energy, guts and were simply not going to be denied. The kids are getting a baptism of fire, and are passing the ordeal with flying colors. Look who appeared on the scoresheet tonight -- Filatov, Voracek, Dorsett, Picard (aided by Peca and Malhotra) With the possible exception of Voracek, how many folks thought these guys would even be on the roster at this point?
These kids are creating a nice problem for Howson. As we continue to win, with depleted ranks, the kids gain more confidence and give Howson more options and leverage with other teams. As Ottawa and Toronto's fortunes fade (they both lost tonight), the likelihood of dealing there increases. Howson has a better position as each day goes by, though guys like Filatov are also going to provide headaches as he decides where they need to play. While a case can be made that Filatov can use some more AHL seasoning, the Crunch do not appear to be going anywhere this year (due in large part to the roster being ravaged by the parent club). Does it help him to get more minutes for a losing AHL club? Interesting conundrum.
A great effort again tonight for the home crowd. Expect a big crowd for Colorado on Tuesday, even without Adam Foote.
Tomorrow I will feature the mid-season review and report card. Please let me know what you like here, what you don't, and vent your opinions.