After one of the worst implosions in any two periods of recent memory in the last game, the Canes needed to, and did, put that in the rear-view mirror. The Columbus Blue Jackets have some top talent, a new coach but are having a severe identity crisis as a couple of their ‘stars’ are still trying to find their game with some high-priced players being a healthy scratch a game or two.
Hickey’s Lighter Moment
The Canes needed and did get off to a good start with tight, maybe even very tight, checking and limiting the Jackets to just one shot in the first 8 minutes. Sound familiar? (Same as last game). Every forward on the Canes seemed to have an extra step, like when Seth Jarvis, yielding 7” and more than 30 pounds to Sebastian Aho’s good friend Patrik Laine, did a great backcheck then stole the puck in his own end to start an odd-man rush in the other direction with Brent Burns joining and getting off a redirected shot from the high slot. A short while later, the Jackets had their best scoring chance of the period that Pyotr Kochetkov made a quick pad save but the rebound kicked out in a dangerous area, but fortunately Brett Pesce was there to clear the puck from the D zone. Rarely during a game are smiles to opponents, but after the Jackets cleared the puck to the neutral zone with both teams changing lines, Dmitry Orlov tried to catch Elvis Merzlikins out of the net and took a wicked slap shot from the red line in front of the penalty box that Elvis had to stretch to make a stick save directing the puck into section 101. Elvis immediately started waving his catching glove at Orlov as if saying, ‘oh no you don’t,’ with Orlov having a good laugh.
The lone powerplay for the Canes in the period looked very good. Possession, passing, and shots were plentiful, as were 3 broken sticks scattered on the ice affecting mobility and effective passing. No goal, but it’s obvious that was something Brind’Amour worked on in practice.
Defense and Forechecking Standout
As good as the first period was, the Canes came out in the second more aggressively. Highly impressive forechecking, tighter defense, and Kooch had better rebound control. At about the 4-minute mark, the Jackets had a 2-on-1 with Cole Sillinger feeding a nice pass to Alexandre Texier for a quick shot that Kooch came up big save with no rebound off the pad. At the other end, Elvis was just as impressive as he was quick with the blocker on several shots by Fishy and Teuvo Teravainen. The Jackets’ defense doesn’t get much press but they’re impressive. They do an excellent job collapsing on defense, closing up the lower slot, and trying to keep the Canes forwards at bay. The Jackets’ #2 ranking in penalty kill has a lot to do with their defense. Late in the period, Justin Danforth had a step on his defender, lowered his shoulder, cut to the goal and just as he was putting the puck on his forehand, Kooch made a perfectly well-timed poke check thwarting any shot. The more we see how Kooch plays, the more he looks like Buffalo HOF goalie Dominik Hasek: anything and everything to stop the puck from going over the goal line.
Kotkaniemi, Skjei, and Finally, Svechnikov
If anything, the Canes wanted to avoid duplicating the atrocities of the second or third period of the previous game. In the start, one had to worry. Clearly, the Canes were the better team through the first two periods leading shots, time in the offensive zone, and possession.
The Jackets won the period’s opening faceoff and dumped the puck over the Canes blue line. Krill Marchenko grabbed the puck along the near half boards and flung it towards the net. Brady Skjei stretched his stick, deflected the puck that fluttered over Kooch’s left shoulder for an early lead with just 13 seconds gone. A little over 5-½ minutes later, the talented ‘Johnny Hockey’ Gaudreau took a shot just inside the far circle that Skjei turned with the puck hitting his back and likewise lifted into the goal at 29.5 mph, barely enough to keep the puck in the air. Kooch had no chance on either goal; those are just breaks of the game which rarely seem to go for the Canes.
Midway in the period, the Canes finally got on the board. Marty Necas brought the puck through the neutral zone passing to Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the right point. KK held it for a second then with Necas going low behind the goal rimmed the puck which Necas quickly passed to Turbo in the near corner. Having the scorer’s mentality, KK went to the sweet spot in the slot with Turbo sending a crisp pass that KK turned, picked the upper right corner to get the Canes on the board. With time working against the Canes, as the game had less than 4 minutes left, Fishy, easily, won a faceoff in the Jackets end drawing the puck to Pesce with everyone going to positions on a set play.
Pesce passed left to Skjei looking to the goal but instead passed to the sender inside the blue line to Fishy for a one-timer. With a mass of humanity in front of the goal, the puck got blocked with Svech quickly grabbing the puck, circling to create space. With Jarvy and Skjei in front, Svech sent a hard pass that bounced off a few bodies with Skjei scooching the puck under Elvis’ pads to tie the game. A little over a minute later with less than 2 minutes to play, Jarvy had the puck at the red line and lifted it to dump in the Jackets’ zone but hit Svech upside the head.
Svech initially had his hand to his head then noticed the puck at his feet, nudged the puck over the blue line leading Fishy while making a beeline to the slot. Fishy calmly centered the pass with Svech nailing a one-timer for his first goal of the year with the Caniacs getting as loud as a playoff goal. One noteworthy observation was that early in the period, Brind’Amour changed lines with Turbo and Svech switching lines. Call it brilliant, but both ‘new’ lines provided all the scoring in the last 5 minutes. Exciting game with justified results as the Canes clearly were the best overall team. The next game is Thursday against the Islanders. Be there!