Nothing could be finer
Than 2 points in Carolina
In a playyy--off race . . . (repeat as often as necessary)
This one had all of the earmarks of a very scary game for the CBJ -- road game, back end of back to backs, on the heels of an emotional, heavy hitting game vs. Detroit, against a team that is desperately trying to stay alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
These, however, are not your parents' Bluejackets. After taking a bit of time to find their legs and their tempo, the Jackets used opportunistic offense, a Hitch approved defense, and emerging special teams expertise to take control of the game and turn it into a St. Valentines Day onlsaught that Al Capone would have been proud of -- 5 - 1 Jackets. Oh, did I forget to mention the guy in the picture? Yeah, him. As Hitch would say "He was good. OK. Yeah, he'll play next game." Mase made the improbable seem routine, and lowered his GAA while increasing his Save Percentage. Only a tip play in the 3rd deprived him of his 8th shutout.
Some nice firsts in this game -- first road win on the tail of a back to back this year. First 5 vs. 3 goal this year. Though outshot, they held a shot-crazy Carolina team to 27 shots on goal. They played smart hockey, which compensated for some fatigue and lack of focus at times.
Here are the +/- for the night:
++ Top Line -- Nash, Huselius and Malhotra combine for 3 goals and 8 points. Nasher has 3 assists. Malhotra won some key faceoffs for us, and we physically wore down the Carolina defense.
++ Special Teams -- Power play was 2 for 4, PK was perfect. Absolutely filthy pass from Nash to Russel to set up Huselius' tap in. Good movement, though we gave up a few scary short handed chances.
++ Control -- Though we clearly did not have all of the jump we would like to have had, we compensated by playing smart. Very few penalties, won most of the battles for the pucks, hustled for open pucks, blocked a lot of shots, and generally did all of the little things you need to do to win. Despite not clicking on all cylinders, we wore down a very determined Carolina team to the point where we were in total control early in the third. That is a mark of real maturity as a team.
++Goalie -- Duhhhh!
++ Jacket Backers -- Though not an "official" trip, Craig, Julie, Brian and some of the others were there in all their glory, and got lots of air time and mention from Rimer and FSOH. Craig must have paid for Rimer's drinks last night . . .
++Players -- The whole top line, Commodore, Tyutin and Backman again. Russel rebounded after a couple of indifferent games. Modin, Umberger and Peca were forces. (Hope Modin didn't do too much damage when he whacked his leg on the post near the end of the game.)
--Puck Handling -- The lone down side to the game tonight was the puck handling in our own zone. Our clearing was not crisp, and our fatigue level had the puck staying on our sticks a bit long. However, we reacted quickly to support, and once we got to the blue line, we made some really nice entries to the offensive zone.
OK, folks. Even the most serious and dedicated curmudgeons must now begin raising at least one eyebrow and concede that these guys are for real. 61 points after 56 games. 28 wins before the middle of February, and they are getting better.
Remember my 60% rule? Win 3 out of 5 for the 35 games after the All Star break, and have as close to a guarantee of a playoff spot as you can get by a formula. Well we are 9 games out from the All Star break, and are 6 - 3, so the worst we can be is right on pace after 10 games.
We are becoming a very heavy team to play, and there is absolutely no quit. One game at a time, but if the all time record crowd for the Detroit game is any indication, Nationwide is going to be the last place in the league any team will want to enter. As it should be . . . Go Jackets!