On Tuesday against San Jose, Columbus finally gave the Nationwide Arena faithful something to cheer about.
And they were cheering early and often, as last-place Columbus (19-35-7) put on a rare offensive display, scoring four first-period goals on its way to a 6-3 win against Pacific-leading San Jose.
Jeff Carter scored a hat trick, but a team effort propelled the Blue Jackets to a season-high six goals. R.J. Umberger, Rick Nash and David Savard also scored, and Vinny Prospal chipped in with three assists. Derick Brassard snapped his two-game goal-scoring streak, but added two helpers. Steve Mason made 38 saves.
"I think that's kind of what we envisioned the start of the season," Umberger said. "It just didn't work out that way. Confidence has a lot to do with a lot of stuff. Tonight we got it early in the game."
Added interim coach Todd Richards: "Our big players really stepped up tonight. ... but I felt we got contributions from everyone," Richards said.
The Sharks (31-19-7), despite two goals from Logan Couture and one from Joe Thornton, lost their fourth in a row and are now 1-4-1 on their current season-long, nine-game road trip. San Jose still leads the Pacific, but only by way of its two fewer games played than second-place Phoenix. The Sharks and Coyotes both have 69 points.
"They were much better prepared to compete than the white team," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "The disappointing thing for me is the lack of urgency that we entered the game with."
Carter, who entered the game with two goals over his last 15 games, recorded his second hat trick this season. He scored two – both on power plays – in a first period that saw Columbus jump to an unlikely 4-0 advantage.
Umberger opened the scoring when he knocked down a long blast from Grant Clitsome, stayed with the puck and stuffed it past Niemi at 4:55. It was Umberger's 10th goal this season.
Carter's first came at 6:51 off a give-and-go with Prospal. With Joe Pavelski off for unsportsmanlike conduct, Carter pulled the puck out from the left circle, passed it forward to Prospal and skated into the slot. Prospal returned, and Carter whipped it through Niemi's pads for his 13th of the season.
"Scoring early, I think it gave us some confidence," Richards said. "Especially on the power play."
Columbus struck again, this time ending Niemi's night after just 15:18. Nash – the subject of swirling trade deadline rumors – curled from the right corner and whipped home a wrister from the slot for a three-goal lead. Niemi left the ice after conceding three on 11 shots.
His backup, Thomas Greiss, wouldn't survive the period against the suddenly-potent Jackets, as Carter struck again at 19:30 on another man advantage. Prospal put one into the mixer from the right circle, and Carter – with his back to goal – clipped the puck through his legs and past an unsuspecting Greiss.
The 4-0 edge was unexpected, especially considering San Jose's 6-0 win in the last meeting on Jan. 31. Carter said that provided a little extra motivation.
"In the back of our mind we were kind of thinking about that game after the All-Star break when they got us pretty good," Carter said. "There was a little bit of a revenge factor there."
Early in the second period, the Sharks pulled two goals back in a span of 26 seconds. First, Thornton redirected a long Colin White shot past Mason at 5:11 for his 13th goal of the season.
At 5:37, Couture made no mistake on his 26th of the season. On a partial breakaway, Michal Handzus skated through the slot and passed to Couture in the left circle. The latter whipped it past Mason to pull the Sharks with 4-2.
Any momentum was quickly lost, however, when Ryane Clowe was assessed a double-minor at 7:37 – one for a cross-check, the other an unsportsmanlike when he slammed the penalty-box door.
Indeed, San Jose would pull no closer as Savard made it 5-2 at 10:59. The rookie defenseman stalked in from the point and snapped a shot from the left circle. The puck found its way through a couple of defenders and Umberger, who had planted himself in front of Greiss. Savard now has two goals in 25 career games.
The Blue Jackets had been improving on the power play in recent games – Columbus has a man-advantage goal in two of three.
Carter capped off his hat trick at 1:26 of the third, simultaneously killing any hopes of a San Jose comeback. A broken play led to Nash collecting in the slot, and while the captain could have taken it himself, he dropped it to Carter at his right to push past a splayed Greiss.
Couture scored another – a deflection of a long Dan Boyle shot at 8:35 – to increase his team-leading goal total to 27, but individual bests will not keep San Jose in the top eight for very long.
"Right now we should be a desperate team," McLellan said. "That's very concerning."