The last thing the Blue Jackets need right now is to run into hot goaltending and have the bounces go against them. Unfortunately, both happened tonight at home, and the result was a 3 -1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
Full marks go to Anaheim for this one. Playing in the back end of a road back-to-back sequence, they came out strong, played a tight collapsing defense, and rode a superior performance from goalie Jonas Hiller to earn their first victory over Columbus this year.
Columbus came out a bit flat, but held their own throughout the first. Anaheim and the Blue Jackets customarily have very physical confrontations, and this was no exception. Sheldon Brookbank and Jared Boll dropped the gloves after a physical confrontation along the boards. Shortly thereafter, Derek Dorsett and Mike Brown tangled in a confrontation that proved expensive for the Blue Jackets, as Dorsett sustained a broken hand, and will be lost for an undetermined amount of time.
The tight contest remained scoreless until late in the first, when Anaheim gambled at the blue line, and emerged with a 4-on-2 break when the Jackets' forwards were caught deep. Mason stopped the first shot, but Dan Sexton found the puck in the ensuing scramble, and parked it home for a 1 - 0 lead.
The Blue Jackets dominated the second and third periods, outshooting the Ducks 27 -14 over that spell. However, the combination of the Duck's collapsing defense and Hiller's acrobatics frustrated the comeback. Columbus exerted good pressure, and maintaned a presence in the crease, but could not solve the goaltender. The second frame remained scoreless until the final minute. Bobby Ryan took possession of the puck in the neutral zone and entered the offensive zone on the left wing with speed. Kris Russell maintained contact, but appeared to lose his balance as Ryan cut toward the center. That slip gave Ryan all the room he needed, as he skated unmolested into the crease, gave Mason a quick deke, and netted a backhand for a 2 -0 lead. Just 19 seconds later, however, R.J. Umberger took a feed from Rick Nash below the goal line, and fired home a bank shot off Hiller's leg, returning the gap to a single goal with just 36 seconds left to play in the period.
The Blue Jackets continued the assault in the third, but could not convert. Anaheim extended the lead to two with 6:13 left in the game, when Corey Perry cashed a perfect cross-ice feed from Ryan Whitney on the power play. Fittingly, a late surge by Columbus included a couple of shots ringing off the post, and some other tantalizing opportunities jsut eluding the Blue Jackets' sticks.
There were many positives for Columbus in this one, despite the loss. Their defensive coverage continues to improve, and the play of Commodore, Hejda and Tyutin is beginning to come around. Mason had no chance on any of the three goals, and played solid in the crease and in playing the puck. Unfortunately, the offense suffered a rare off night. Coming into the game, Columbus was tied for sixth in the league in goals per game, and was second in power play effectiveness.
Although discouraging, the club has to focus on the positives and put the emphasis on playing a full sixty minutes of hockey. They appear somewhat trapped between the worlds of defensive responsibility and offensive aggressiveness. They will need to find that middle ground to reverse the current slump. However, they remain in the hunt, and a few game winning streak will go a long way to righting the ship. Not much consolation tonight, but the elements are there.