The Blue Jackets have searched for their identity at times this season, but tonight against the Detroit Red Wings, they were on top of their game for 60 minutes.
Coach Scott Arniel admitted after the game he wasn’t sure what his team’s response would be until the puck dropped. After a heartbreaking defeat over the weekend in Ottawa, Arniel was anxious to see how his players would come out of the gates tonight.
He didn’t have to wait long to get an answer.
Columbus scored on the first shift of the game as R.J. Umberger muscled his way to the front of the net and buried a rebound from Antoine Vermette’s shot. Umberger, without a goal entering tonight, got inside position on Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart and popped the loose puck through the legs of goaltender Ty Conklin just 21 seconds into the game. The building was into it, the bench was alive and the Blue Jackets were off and running.
Darren Helm scored from a bad angle at the 4:54 mark of the opening period, the Blue Jackets came right back undeterred. The Red Wings were called for too many men at 7:27 and Columbus’ power play – which has now scored goals in five straight games – was back on the job. Grant Clitsome let a slap shot go from the point, and it caromed off the end boards to Ryan Johansen who was camped on the goal line. Johansen caught Conklin off his post, threw the puck back toward the net and ended up scoring his first career goal on the play.
“(Scoring the goal) wouldn’t have felt as good if we had lost again tonight,” Johansen said. “This is definitely a great feeling, there’s a lot of confidence throughout our room tonight. Once we get a couple more of our guys back, this team could be deadly.
“We have to make sure we’re in the right spots against a team like Detroit, and we made sure were doing that (tonight).”
With a 2-1 lead late in the second period, they kept pushing. Cody Bass sealed the left wall on a Detroit clearing attempt and fed the puck back to John Moore, who made a nice play to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Moore teed up a slap shot, and thanks to a partial screen from Derek MacKenzie, roofed it over Conklin’s left shoulder for a 3-1 lead – a goal that Arniel said gave the bench an enormous burst of energy.
The ending was not without drama. Derek Dorsett got tangled up with the Red Wings’ Tomas Holmstrom in the neutral zone and both players fell to the ice, but Dorsett was called for holding on the play. Detroit went to the power play with 2:12 remaining in the third period, and the Blue Jackets dug deep one more time with a huge penalty kill.
MacKenzie’s shorthanded empty-net goal at the 19:06 mark provided the final margin and thunderous approval from the Nationwide Arena crowd.
Whenever the Red Wings are in town, it’s a given that they will put the pressure on at some point during the game. The Blue Jackets were excellent on the penalty kill, holding Detroit to five shots on goal in three opportunities, despite some impressive even-strength shifts from Pavel Datsyuk’s line. The second period was probably that line’s best, with Datsyuk and line mate Henrik Zetterberg displaying their puck-possession prowess.
Columbus answered a long defensive-zone shift with the third goal from Moore, what many players (and Arniel) said was an important moment in the game. The Blue Jackets got a goal from their fourth line that was buzzing all night long – MacKenzie, Bass and Alexandre Giroux were a matchup nightmare for Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.
“That third goal, the life on our bench…we were energized for 60 minutes,” Arniel said.
- We’d be remiss without leading off with the instant impact from James Wisniewski. In his first game of the season, the man they call “Wiz” led all players with 27:21 total and quarterbacked the power play to another successful outing. He was only credited with one shot on goal, but he blocked four attempts and made several deft breakout passes in the face of forechecking pressure from the Red Wings.
- It was a rookie party in Nationwide Arena tonight. Johansen and Moore each scored their first NHL goal in the same game – the first time it’s happened in Blue Jackets franchise history. Johansen notched his first career multi-point game (one goal, one assist) and now has points in consecutive games. Moore’s timely goal was his first point in just his fourth career game.
- R.J. Umberger got his goal-scoring started with his first of the season, snapping an 11-game skid dating back to April 3, 2011 vs. St. Louis. It was a typical, greasy goal for the big winger – getting to the net and banging in a rebound. Umberger is one goal shy (75) of fourth place on the club’s all-time goal scoring list, and continued a pretty good scoring pace against Detroit: in 22 games against the Red Wings, Umberger has picked up 9-6-15 total.
- Antoine Vermette has broken his scoring slump in a big way. He now has registered points in three straight games after picking up the primary helper on Umberger’s first-period goal. He’s got 0-3-3 the past three contests despite not recording a point in the first six games of the season. Vermette was a +1 tonight in 20:10 of total ice time.
- Here’s a career first for Clitsome: he had three assists in tonight’s game, the first three-point effort of his NHL career. He has been a rock for Arniel in the absence of Radek Martinek and Marc Methot, and has improved his play with each passing game. Johansen credited Clitsome with putting a well-placed shot off the boards to set up his goal.
- This was a big night for Mason. He left the game briefly in the first period after getting dinged up in his goal crease, but returned to stop 30 of 31 shots in a flat-out dominating performance. He controlled his rebounds, managed his movement well and looked big in the net – attributes that make him a successful goaltender. Said Arniel: “I was so proud of him. It’s a big step for Steve Mason.”
Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV: FOX Sports Ohio (HD)
Radio: 97.1 The Fan & BlueJackets.com