Ladies and Gentlemen -- please be seated, and Professor Hitchcock will review tonight's game with you and explain just how and why that was the finest example of how Hitch Hockey is played that the Jackets have ever put on the ice.
Oops -- I guess Hitch can't make it -- something about being in Alberta, having to go kick some Canuck tail in Vancouver. No worries, Hitch, I'll take it from here.
Do not let the 1 - 0 score fool you. This was a dominant an effort as the Bluejackets have provided all year, particularly when you consider the situation under which it was played -- 6th place, 1 point ahead of half the Western Conference, including Edmonton, on the road, coming off 2 losses and an exhausting 6 in 9 stretch. This was a matchup of two hockey teams desperate for the 2 points, as we arrive at the 3/4 pole of this race.
Not only were our best players our best players -- Nash, Huselius, Mason, Umberger, Commodore, Hejda, Tyutin--but our role players were also our best players. Torres, Dorsett, Boll, Gratton all played key roles. How beautiful was it that Torres got the lone goal??
This was not a situation where the Bluejackets caught an opponent when they were down. Despite the boos from the home crowd, Edmonton played tough defense, had what seemed like a hundred blocked shots, and had a goalie in Roloson who stood on his head all night long, aided by a post or three. Otherwise, this is a 6 -0 game. The Jackets simply denied space and time from the Edmonton forwards, and when they did get a moments worth of space, Mason stopped them cold. We were relentless on the puck in the offensive zone, stingy in the neutral zone, and cleared the puck out of our own zone with precision and speed. And we kept doing it, again, and again . . . in the end, we wore down their forwards by forcing them to spend the majority of their shifts in their own zone.
Let's review the pluses for tonight's game. Although we got no power play goals, and missed a few opportunities we should have cashed, I can't in good conscience assign minuses to those tonight.
++ Legs -- We skated, and we skated, and we skated . . . there was no place on the ice where the Oilers were safe. We forechecked relentlessly, stood people up at our own blue line, and got the puck deep almost every time down. That set up the forecheck, which set up turnovers, which set up opportunities. Hitch-Hockey!
++Hitting -- We made the Oilers pay the price every time they touched the puck. As much as we skated, we hit just as much. Boll, Tyutin, Commodore, Gratton, Williams all laid lots of wood on people tonight, and the effect was cumulative.
++Puck Control -- Terrifically strong on the puck all night long. No turnovers to speak of in our own zone, and crisp, decisive exit passes. We cycled well in the offensive zone, maintained position on the wings to keep pucks in, and moved the puck well on our power plays. Best puck control in a long time. 32 - 19 in shots, 29 - 17 in faceoffs. Done.
++Goaltending -- The Masonic Wall was back in spades tonight. Not overly tested, with only 19 shots, but his two consecutive saves on Cole in the second were sick. Two nice saves at the end while Edmonton pressed the action. All this at 20 years old, with the weight of the playoff race and the recover from mono on his shoulders. Good stuff. NHL leading 8th shutout, reduced his GAA, and is coming closer to locking up the Calder.
++Intelligence -- This was an intelligently played game, on and off the ice. We neutralized Hemsky, leaving him with only 1 or 2 real opportunities, "sandwiching" him from front and back, as Hitch described. We kept our heads up and avoided turnovers and stupid penalties. Zero penalties in the third period, which is huge in a 1 - 0 game, particularly when the other team has a guy like Sheldon Souray, who has an absolute cannon from long range. Great coaching job in rolling 4 lines on short shifts, never letting up on the pressure.
++Players -- Everybody played their part tonight, but some stood out. Boll, Torres and Dorsett were enormous tonight. A little more confidence in these guys in the offensive zone and who knows what we might have. Gratton was another guy who stood out -- some big hits, nice passing, won lots of battles down low. Peca was strong, and Tyutin, Russell, Methot, Hejda and Commodore all atoned for past sins.
The heat was on from the hysteria crowd after two losses, and the Jackets came through with flying colors. Not only did we take care of business, but St. Louis beats Dallas 3 - 1, Boston creams (sorry, had to do it) Anaheim 6 -0. Phoenix and Colorado both lose, so stick a fork in them, they are done. Minnesota has a tough double in Calgary and Edmonton, then has a night off before going to Vancouver.
Tied for 5th with 68 points with 20 games to go. 10 - 10 gives us 88 points, which might do it this year. 10 - 8 - 2 or 11 - 9 gives us 90, which is looking very good right now. We are 9 - 5 - 1 since the All Star Break, slightly ahead of the 60% rule standard. If we stick with winning 60% of the remaining games, that will give us 92 points, a virtual lock for a good spot in the West.
An effort like tonight is going to fuel more. Opponents are not going to get goaltending efforts like this every night, so some of those shots are going to start going in. When that happens, watch out!
Great win tonight! Go Jackets!