I’m not usually an early-to-bed kind of guy, but it’s not every day I stay up past midnight watching hockey. It’s a ‘treat’ I indulge in no more than ten times per year. Last night was the first of a five game road stretch for the Jackets, and their third game under new head coach Ken Hitchcock.
It wasn’t pretty.
Canucks captain Markus Naslund lifts a backhand over Pascal Leclaire’s glove for the game winner. (AP Photo/CP, Richard Lam)
Columbus only allowed one goal for a final score of 1-0 in favor of the Canucks, but if I were to say what score more accurately reflected how the game went I’d probably go with 4-1 Vancouver. The Canucks had the momentum for much of the game. They were pressuring the puck in all zones (great forecheck on the PK displayed a few times), creating decent scoring chances, and in general handling the Jacket team very well. If not for a few specatular (and a few more lucky) saves from Pascal Leclaire, the lone Canuck goal would have grown to at least three or four.
The Jackets had a near goal disallowed in the second period. In live action, the referee right behind the net waved it off, and then it was reviewed in the Toronto “war room” (as it was called many times by color man Danny Gare). It was a call that really couldn’t be overturned because there was no camera angle (at least that I saw) that could accurately show the play. If the ref had called it a goal to begin with, it probably would have stood, but he didn’t… so it wasn’t. I have no problem with the decision, because there was no indisputable evidence available to reverse it. The original call could have gone either way. From where the ref was, right behind the net, there is no way he could have seen the puck fully cross the line. Some Jackets fans and broadcasters *cough cough* will complain about the call, but I’m fine with it. Do I think it was a goal? Yes, but I’m slightly biased. Do I think it was a good call? Absolutely. End of story.
In general, the Jackets looked a little jittery in the defensive zone last night, and had trouble making crisp passes to start the breakout. Recently, Ken Hitchcock was quoted repeatedly in the paper saying he hates (yes, he used that word) rimming the puck out of the defensive zone as opposed to turning up ice, finding the open man, and leading the rush. I’d have to imagine that the team will be working on this (not rimming the puck) quite a bit in the next few days. The Canucks were able to create a great deal of confusion among the Jackets blueliners, and keep the puck behind Leclaire for ten to twenty seconds on a Blue Jackets power play. The crowd cheered it’s approval, which likely would have been heard as booing if the venue had been Nationwide. Just a hunch.
The Jackets did well on faceoffs (34/56 for 61%) and hits (18 hits given), but couldn’t find a way to put a complete shift together. It seemed to me that each time the team broke out of the defensive zone cleanly at even strength, there was a turnover either before the blueline was gained or shortly after winning a puck battle in the corner.
There were a few Jackets who played a decent game, at least on my television (again, it was late). Rusty Klesla is playing bigger every day. He’s using his size and speed to manufacture some separation between the opposition and the puck (yeah, that’s me being wordy trying to say Klesla is becoming a big hitter). He was officially credited with four hits, and a big one on Markus Naslund that had some of the Canucks going out of their way to find Rusty on the ice. Nikolai Zherdev also had stretches last night where he played complete hockey. Seeing a Jacket crunch an opponent into the boards, and then turn around with a number thirteen on his back is a very welcome sight in the EOB household. Of course, he also had his lazy moments on defense in the second and third periods as well. Rick Nash saw some PK time (okay, only 0:41 but it still counts), which is something you’d almost never see under Gallant. I’d like to see more of this. When he was out there, he was skating harder and managing his area of responsibility better than I’ve seen him do at even strength in quite a while (maybe ever?).
It was nice to see Jaroslav Balastik back in the lineup last night, as well. I’m guessing that this move (and getting Gilbert Brule more ice time) were made to please Jes Golbez over at Hockey Rants. Golbez has railed at the CBJ management many times (often rightfully so) for not playing two of his favorites any more than they do. I’ve had a tough time making up my mind on Balastik this year (though he did play well last night in 6:37 of action, 1:26 of that shorthanded!), but he can be fun to watch. There is no doubt in my mind that Brule is a talent, and with the right mix of opportunity and instruction will become a major part of the team. Hopefully Jes was watching last night to see these guys in action.
The team travels northeast to Calgary to face the Flames on Friday night. After facing Roberto Luongo last night, the road doesn’t get any easier in the next few days as Miikka Kiprusoff and Dwayne Roloson are next up in the parade.
Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench. Come back soon.