We might have been able to predict this one. 5 games in 8 days, consisting of Detroit (twice), Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago. 4 consecutive wins, 2 on the road. A Detroit team angry, wanting revenge for the 8 - 2 drubbing last Saturday. Then, it was Detroit making mistakes, and the Jackets taking advantage. Tonight was precisely reversed.
Detroit was very sharp tonight--passing was crisp, checking was tight, and none of the sloppiness that we saw last Saturday. They came out firing on all cylinders, and the Jackets did not have the legs to keep up in the first period. Turnovers, penalties and sloppy defensive play led to a 15 - 7 shot disadvantage after 1, a full 2 minute 5-on-3 power play for Detroit, and a position squarely behind the 8 ball for the home club. We found some space and opportunities in the 2nd, but the bounces were not going our way, and our crispness was lacking. Osgood was solid, if unspectacular, and when another defensive lapse allowed Detroit its 3rd goal, the air went out of the 18,675 in the house, who seemed to approach the game with a collective air of trepidation.
I am foregoing the normal +/- ratings tonight in favor of a clear statement of the problem tonight: defensive failure. In short, we were awful in our own zone. Give full marks to Detroit, who are enjoying the return of Messrs. Hossa and Homstrom, but we made their job way too easy. Two characters are at center stage of this failure tonight: Klesla and Backman. Although I am reticent to call out individual players, especially given how well the team has been doing overall, but this was so obvious it was painful.
Klesla has been hurt much of the year, so he is either physically limited or just not ready to play. Either way, he needs to sit. On the first goal tonight, Klesla was in perfect position to sweep the puck to the boards or otherwise neutralize the play. Instead, he stopped skating, creating a clear breakaway and catching an understandably surprised Mason totally off guard. All night long, Klesla was slow, reluctant to engage and very weak on the puck.
Backman was constantly out of position, poor on the puck, and allowed numerous opportunities. Novotny took his first penalty trying to cover for Backman, who then compounded the error by cross-checking for no apparent reason, creating the 2 minute 5-on-3. Nice experiment, Hitch, but give Christian some lovely parting gifts and send him to the Healthy Scratch Home For Wayward Defensemen.
There was a cascading impact to these defensive lapses. Tyutin and Russell, the unfortunate blue line companions of Messrs. Backman and Klesla, were forced to effectively play by themselves. We couldn't generate quick exits from our zone, which enabled Detroit to effectively trap the puck in the neutral zone, play their possession game, and choke off our offense. Sure, our offensive guys had some chances they blew, and the puck bounced over and around sticks all night, but this one falls on the defense. Mason was fine -- he just had nowhere to hide, as everytime he turned around there was a Red Wing breaking wide open with the puck.
Enough said. Detroit had their ears pinned back, and were very good. We garnered 8 out of 10 points in a brutal 5 game stretch, to the almost unanimous amazement of fans and skeptics alike. Tonight was Game 70. Over the last 30, we are 18 - 10 - 2, above the .600 mark. In contrast, over the first 40 games, we were 18-18-4. We have created some gap over Nashville, Dallas, Edmonton, Minnesota and Anaheim, and are closer to Vancouver and Chicago. St. Louis did us a favor by beating Minnesota tonight, and Anaheim has a tough tilt against San Jose.
While the Jackets are moving into a relatively easier schedule (off until Wednesday, then a game Saturday, then the following Tuesday), while most of those in the race are just starting the killer parts of theirs.
We knew we were not going to win every game coming in, so no time to get too out of sorts over this one. We ended up with a very respectable 3-3 record vs. Detroit this year, which is better than most other squads can claim. They are a very good team. Get some rest, and use the home advantage to give it back to the Blackhawks on Wednesday. Go Jackets!