Blue Jackets-Blues: Columbus' Slump Is Over—For a Night

Ed CmarCorrespondent IDecember 1, 2009

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 23:  R.J. Umberger #18 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 23, 2009 in New York, New York. The Rangers defeated the Blue Jackets 7-4.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Well, my luck ran out, as it relates to pre-game analysis. I predicted that St. Louis would win, 4-3, in either Overtime (OT) or a Shootout (SO).

Result? The Columbus Blue Jackets (CBJ) won, 5-2, although the game was much closer than the final score indicated, as the CBJ netted two empty-net goals with less than one minute to play.

So, note to self: If the CBJ need to win, (I should) pick against them.

On to the post-game analysis (what went well, what went OK, and what was a downer):

The Good

* R.J. Umberger—'Nuff said. R.J. posted a hat trick—OK, one of those goals was an empty-net goal, but still, it was so great to see the ever-streaky Umberger get his goal-scoring game back on track. This guy is the heart and conscience of the team, so, as goes R.J., (hopefully) so go the CBJ.

* Kris Russell played an outstanding game, scoring a goal and logging a goal, an assist, a plus three (+/- rating), and a whopping 23:06 of Time On Ice (TOI). I believe K Russ is best served when he is leading the team on the break, when using his great puck-handling and skating speed out of the defensive zone.

Let's face it: Russ' shot from the point won't remind anyone of Zdeno Chara or Sheldon Souray anytime soon. In fact, his goal from the point was his first ever goal from that spot. But it was great to see Russ step up after being healthy scratched for a puzzling five out of the last six games.

* Mike Commodore getting a plus four for last night's effort, as well as two stellar blocked shots. That was easily the best game Commie's played this season—then again, it didn't take much to top the previous best performance. Ouch!

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* Steve Mason played an extremely solid game in net, stopping many key shots from the point. The two goals he did let in, Patrick Roy, in all his greatness, couldn't have stopped. It looked like the Mase of last season. Here's hoping the trend continues. This has been the problem—Mason will follow a solid game or two with an absolute clunker of a performance. Fingers crossed, fingers crossed...

* Known CBJ killer Keith Tkachuk was held scoreless, registering only two shots. That's the first time the CBJ have done this against Tkachuk, well, ever.

* There were several other solid performances. While I won't go into detail, I will mention those who did stand out for Columbus:

Rick Nash—Interesting; for a night in which he didn't register a point, he did have a plus two rating, which has been an inverse of how his season has gone so far.

Jan Hejda—Nice to see The Big Plus back to his under-the-radar efforts as the CBJ's true defensive stopper.

Antoine Vermette—Sure, an empty-net goal, but also a plus two and also registered an assist.

Derick Brassard and Jake Voracek—Both sophomores had beautiful feeds to Umberger for his first two goals.

The OK

* Jason Chimera—Well, he played last night, but it's now game No. 11 without registering a point. So, there's my answer to the question to those who tell me, "Chimmer is having a great start this season. What do you have to say about that, Mr. Hockey Writer?"

* Anton Stralman—As I've said before, he's a pleasant surprise, offering more defensive prowess than anyone had expected; however, he did look a bit out of sorts last night, particularly in moving the puck out of the defensive and neutral zones.

The Bad

* The crowd—12,291. I know, I know: It's a Monday night, the team's coming off of a five-game winless streak, we're not yet over Buckeye football, my kids have school, tomorrow...garbage! No excuse for that putrid crowd.

I don't know if many folks knew this, but the NHL Commish, Gary Bettman, was in town last night for part of the game. For those of you who really want to present the case that the NHL belongs in Columbus, this outcome didn't exactly help.

* Rusty Klesla's injury. Klesla's out for four to six weeks with a very serious groin tear, one for which surgery is being considered. Some have reported that his injury was the result of Blues defenseman Barret Jackman barreling into him from behind.

I was near the play and saw it more than a few times on the Jumbotron—haven't we learned anything from the Joe Theismann leg snap from over 20 years ago?—and really didn't see a dirty play. It just looked like two players getting tangled up, with an awkward result.

As a result, Mathieu Roy is being called up from Syracuse (Columbus' AHL affiliate) to fill in for Klesla.

So, in summary:

1. Getting off the schnide.

2. Great performances to go around.

3. On the down side, the crowd and Klesla's injury.

The Jackets moved up to four games above .500 and into a tie for ninth place in the Western Conference standings. I know, I know, it's early, but hey, historically, this is usually the date around which the CBJ have been mathematically eliminated from playoff competition. Personally, I take the little victories.

Up next, the team that is fast becoming one of the elite teams in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks. It's one thing to play a game on back-to-back nights, and it's another to play at the United Center, but it's another thing to have to play the Blackhawks on the night in which Joel Quenneville is going for his 500th career win and when Marian Hossa makes his Blackhawks home debut.

I think I speak for coach Ken Hitchcock—he says it so many times when facing the 'Hawks—when I say, "Avoid the track meet."

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