After the opening night crowd of 18,300 left disappointed with the Columbus Blue Jackets were soundly beaten 5-2 by the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, a die-hard crowd of 9,802 came to watch the Blue Jackets play against the struggling Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks’ struggles lie with their defense, the sum effect of not replacing future Hall of Fame defensemen Chris Pronger (trade) and Scott Niedermayer (retirement) and the departure of Francois Beauchemin (free agency) with anything that resembles their collective talent level.
So, the opportunity to take advantage of beating a once-vaunted and physical team was there for the taking.
While not the most entertaining game, it was a gritty, hard-fought victory by the Blue Jackets by a score of 3-1.
The Blue Jackets opened the scoring on a supreme effort by Derek Mackenzie. At 3:32 of the second period, Mackenzie fought off the puck from Ducks’ defenseman Andreas Lilja and charged to the net, releasing a wrist shot underneath the goaltending leg pads of Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller and crashing into the net after the shot passed through the net.
The Blue Jackets then scored one minute and 11 seconds afterwards, on a busted play and a defensive breakdown by the Ducks. Rick Nash notched his second goal of the season with a wrist shot that also went underneath the pads of Jonas Hiller to make the score 2-0.
The Ducks finally answered with a sloppy goal of their own to open the final period when Teemu Selanne slid a wrist shot past the blocker side of Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason to narrow the deficit to 2-1.
But, with 27.8 seconds to go in the third period, Rick Nash iced the game with an empty-net goal to make the final score 3-1 in favor of the Blue Jackets.
Combined with a similar hard-fought 3-2 road victory against the Minnesota Wild, on the day after the home opening disappointment against the Blackhawks, tonight’s Blue Jacket victory makes it two wins in a row and improves their overall record to 3-2-0.
Much like last season, I will summarize what went right for the Blue Jackets, what went wrong and what could be room for improvement.
Derek Mackenzie: Mackenzie is making quite the case for staying up with the Blue Jackets for the long term.
Mackenzie has spent the majority of his pro career being jettisoned between the Blue Jackets AHL affiliate and the parent squad. But with goals scored in two consecutive games, not to mention providing the Blue Jackets with an initial spark tonight, Mackenzie will make any imminent demotion quite difficult.
Rick Nash: The Blue Jackets team captain finally got the puck in the net with two goals scored, the latter goal being an empty-net goal.
As mentioned in a previous article, the relationship between Rick Nash scoring and the team winning and remaining competitive are linear.
Steve Mason: Don’t look now, but the Blue Jackets top netminder is starting to resemble the goaltender that nabbed the 2008-09 Calder Trophy.
Except for being victimized by numerous turnovers against the Blackhawks as well as letting in two wrap-around attempts in the season opener in Stockholm, Mason has been quite stout in the net.
Stopping 31 of 31 shots on goal, for now, has eased the concerns that his sophomore slump of last season was an aberration.
Scott Arniel: The Blue Jackets rookie head coach called a timeout immediately after a stoppage in play when the Blue Jackets resorted to an all-too-familiar theme of sloppy defense in their own defensive zone, particularly after a goal was just scored.
Arniel calmed the team down, which was reflected in the team’s play the rest of the way, which was a departure from another all-too-familiar theme for most of the history of the franchise: playing to not lose.
Ethan Moreau’s injury: Moreau left the game after taking a vicious slap shot to the right wrist at the beginning of the second period.
It was reported that Moreau suffered a broken wrist.
Given Moreau’s much-needed leadership presence and tenacious, two-way play, one can only hope that Moreau’s injury is not of a long-term nature.
The increasing blueline sick bay: While defenseman Nick Holden recorded a +1 in his NHL debut, he and Nate Guenin were brought up from the Blue Jackets American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate due to a rash of increasing injuries to key defenseman Anton Stralman, Mike Commodore and Kris Russell.
While their AHL affiliate does currently have a glut of 10 defensemen on its roster, for the Blue Jackets to come out of the gate well, they will need an immediate return to health of the parent club's defensive group.
Room for Improvement
The power play continued to struggle: The power play often looked pedestrian and without flow, with key offensive weapons trying, once again, to be too fine with their passes as well as making too many passes.
When any athlete struggles, usually the best advice is to perform the simplest act—in this case, to just “shoot the puck.”
Up next for the Blue Jackets are the Calgary Flames, who are a team not only coming off of a disappointing and a horrific second half of the 2009-10 season, but will be playing the Blue Jackets on the second of consecutive back-to-back nights.
And their opponent the night before? None other than a road encounter with against the Detroit Red Wings.
Much like tonight’s game, Friday’s game will also be one for the taking for the improving Blue Jackets.