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Aftermath: Stars Struck

by Brian McCormack / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets met a red-hot Dallas Stars team head on and came away with two more points, keeping Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn off the scoresheet and getting a big performance from their top guns.

The Stars had won eight of 10 games coming into Tuesday’s contest, and scored 24 goals in the previous five games. The Jackets kept them under control by jumping out to a solid start and getting some help from Sergei Bobrovsky down the stretch. That solid effort pushed the Blue Jackets over the .500 mark (18-17-3) for the first time since Oct. 25.

You hear it often enough from a head coach, that his best players need to be the best players. That’s even more true when those players are stacked on the same line, as Todd Richards did for the second straight game by placing Nick Foligno, Ryan Johansen, and Scott Hartnell together on the top unit. It can also apply to defenseman James Wisniewski, who scored his second goal in three games (and his first even-strength goal of the season) and seems to be regaining his offensive form.

The Johansen line was dominant, with Johansen registering a power play goal, Foligno picking up three assists, and Hartnell grabbing two helpers as well. The line’s effectiveness can be summed up on the first goal of the game, which looked very similar to David Savard’s winner in Denver. On the Savard goal, Hartnell had won a foot race and received puck support from Foligno, who found Savard at the point.

Tonight, it was Foligno getting a step on Jamie Oleksiak and using his frame to carry the puck below the goal line, where he dropped it off for Hartnell. Wisniewski pulled back out to the point, where Hartnell fed him the puck. Wisniewski had space to shoot and all kinds of traffic in front of Stars goalie Anders Lindback, and the Jackets had a 1-0 lead.

That puck support was there all night for the Jackets top line, the trio combining for three shots and nine attempts on the night. Wisniewski had five shots on goal.

The Blue Jackets penalty kill looked much more familiar in Dallas than in previous nights on the road trip. The Stars went 0-5 on the power play, fruitless on nine shots over that time. Dallas was able to generate most of its power play chances from offensive zone draws to open their man advantages, an aspect the Stars excelled in, winning 56 percent of face-offs for the game. Whether it was missing passes, over-skating pucks at the red line, and even bumping into linesmen on one occasion, the Stars rarely had the room to navigate through the neutral zone to generate any kind of speed attack on the Blue Jackets defense during the power play, especially in the first two periods.

A lot of credit can be given to Brandon Dubinsky, who played 5:22 on the penalty kill. But the second-most kill time among Jackets’ forwards tonight (3:36) was entrusted to Mark Letestu, playing his first game since Oct. 28 after abdominal surgery. Letestu reminded the Jackets exactly why they’ve missed him so much, positionally sound and terrific on the penalty kill, important as his minutes were limited to 9:38 for the game as the Jackets ease him back into action. He showed his trademark flash for opportunistic offense, creating a 2-on-1 with Alexander Wennberg to score his fourth of the season and ice the game.

The Blue Jackets had an edge on paper between the pipes coming into the game. Bobrovsky was well rested, having the night off Sunday in Denver. Lindback hadn’t played since Dec. 21, but his stat line had been part of the reason. The Stars’ backup is now 1-6-0 with an .860 save percentage and a 4.26 goals-against average.

Bobrovsky wasn’t heavily tested through two periods, though he did surrender two goals on screened shots by Ales Hemsky and an Antoine Roussel deflection. But the Jackets had limited the Seguin-Benn duo to only three shots (their only three attempts) in the first 40 minutes, including roughly 4:20 of power play time. That was bound to change in the final frame, and the Stars made a heavy push with an 88.24 Corsi For (CF%) percentage in the third period, which in part can be attributed to score effects.

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