Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Bizarre Road Point

There was quite a debate a few nights ago, when the Jackets came away with an OTL vs. Tampa Bay. Many were concerned that the Jackets seemed satisfied with the point, and that they did not display the requisite angst over the OTL.

Tonight, same result, but I submit a very different attitude.  Every one of the assembled 70+ Bluejackets fans was content with the road point, if not thrilled. Nobody was pleased with the way the CBJ played for the first 47 minutes of the game, nor with the officiating, which seemed hyper-technical agains the CBJ, while Nash was getting pummeled by the Blues.

Make no mistake, St. Louis is a desperate team, and played like it.  This was their next-to-last home game, and was an absolute must-win if they are to keep their playoff homes alive heading out on a 5 day road trip.  Their energy was fueled by an insane (and nasty) Blues crowd, who has embraced the stretch drive this team has put together.  The Blues swarmed the offensive zone, making you wonder if they had too many men on the ice.  The first goal was the result of a convention of 3 players in the crease.  Mason never had a chance.  The second was a bizarre, sweeping backhand in traffic that hit the far post and caromed in.  In between Vermette provided our only hopeful moment of the first two frames, taking a feed from Umberger on the power play and beating Chris Mason for a shorthanded tally.  

The third St. Louis goal epitomized what was ailing the Jackets during the first two frames.  The puck came toward the net, and was deflected by a body.  It sat in the crease -- a Blues player shot it -- saved.  Another Blues player found the puck and shot it -- saved.  Mason couldn't stop the third try. We couldn't put our sticks on the pucks, particularly in our own zone.  We lost every battle along the boards.  Only some fantastic saves by Mason kept us in the game.  The Blues and their fans smelled blood, but the Jackets refused to collapse.

Just as things looked like they might not turn around, Huselius followed a shot with a stuff past Mason's stick.  All of a sudden, despite being outplayed, the Jackets were in the game.  Just under two minutes later, Nash took things into his own hands.  Coming off the boards, he fought off a couple of defenders, cruised the middle, and fired a wrister past Mason.  Tie game!   Clearly unnerved, St. Louis took a timeout, and the crowd was silent.

The Jackets dominated possession for the balance of the game, holding St. Louis to 4 shots in the third.  Same for the OT.  The shootout was huge for the Blues, and the crowd was going nuts.  Huselius beat Chris Mason, but lost the handle moving it to his backhand.  Nash buried his, but Williams made one too many moves.  For St. Louis, Oshie and McDonald were stuffed by our Mason, but Boyes blasted a rocket high glove, and Perron copied him in the 4th round for the win.

No plus/minus tonight, as we have to be up at 5:30 am to catch our plane, and I am watching my alma mater, Stanford, put the finishing touches of a victory over OSU in the Women's NCCA Basketball Tournament round of 16.  Sorry, folks, but -- GO CARDINAL!!!

Here are my observations:
  • All the credit in the world to St. Louis and its fans.  This was an unbelievably pumped up team and crowd, and the environment was electric. (For our part, I think we represented the Army of the Ohio pretty well -- our cheering generated boos from the crowd and some particularly nasty remarks from San Jose fans)
  • Steve Mason kept us alive until we found our legs and a way to match the St. Louis intensity.  
  • All credit to the CBJ for digging deep to take a road point under hostile conditions and with seemingly everything stacked against them.
  • We need to get back to hitting instead of just skating near the offensive player in our zone.  Klesla was weak again in this regard.  We lost the hit battle, lost lots of battles on the boards, and just broke even in the faceoff circle.  Our younger players seem tentative, not wanting to make a mistake.
  • On the positive side, we are 3-0-2 during the Dirty Dozen, 8 out of a possible 10 points, and that is the type of tenacity we need heading into the playoffs.
  • I updated the spreadsheet, and will have more on playoff standings after tomorrow night's games.  However, we eliminated LA from passing us tonight (thanks, roadman for pointing out the tiebreaker on most wins!)  I am officially calling Dallas out of the race as well. Minnesota is on life support after losing to Calgary.  St. Louis has only 1 home game left, and Nashville has only 2 home games left.  It is a 4 horse race for 2 slots coming down the stretch.
  • I fully expect that the Jackets (and the crowd) will demonstrate the same enthusiasm that the Blues fans did today.
More later today after we return to Columbus.  Go Jackets!

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