After switching up lines to try confusing San Jose, and then losing with those new lines, coach Ken Hitchcock was in a bit of a bind. He could try his original lines, and hope that they created some chemistry. He could keep these new lines, and hope they will actually work well. Or, he could come up with whole new lines, and hope that it pays off. Hitchcock chose Option No. 3 and, well, it did pay off.
Columbus' game against Phoenix in Jobing.com Arena was their third tough road game in a row. In all the games, the Blue Jackets were the opponents during the home opener, and all the teams wanted to show off to their fans. Phoenix especially needed to show off, as the team has recently declared bankruptcy. They actually needed to offer lower bowl tickets for $25 (compare that to my $75 CBJ tickets) in order to sell the arena out. After coming off a demoralizing loss, and entering a hostile arena, Columbus should have been intimidated – they were not.
Instead, the Blue Jackets were the ones doing the intimidating, while the Coyotes were on the run the whole game. With their new lines, and their young core healthy, the Jackets were able to control the puck, and pick their shots carefully. Plus, with veteran Mathieu Garon guarding the pipes, the offense was able to concentrate on scoring. That concentration paid off when, in the first, Captain Rick Nash (2) lit the lamp with a beautiful back-door tap-in off a pass from Kristian Huselius and Derick Brassard.
In the second, Phoenix found their footing, and started to get their game on. No matter how many times they shot, however, they were unable to get the puck past Garon. Time after time, the Coyotes shot it at the Columbus net, and every-time, Garon was there flashing his pads. Though it looked like Phoenix was dominating the game, it was only because the Jackets were often a man down. Killing four power plays, including a 5-on-3, the Jackets were unable to generate any offense, but their defense was amazing.
Just like the second period, the Jackets' defense was easily handling the Coyotes' offense. Killing off even more power plays, the Jackets were strong and showing their power. Garon was still blocking everything in net, and the young core were doing their best to get the puck in the net. Though the crowd was still in full force, the Coyotes were not able to do anything, and they started to slip. When they finally pulled goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, and R.J. Umberger (2) sent the puck into the empty net, clearly Columbus had the game.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Mathieu Garon was an off-season pickup by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Garon had been a goalie in Edmonton, and he had been picked up by the Jackets to give starter, and 2009 Rookie of the Year, Steve Mason a rest. On Saturday, Garon showed that he was a worthwhile pickup. Blocking all 36 shots on his way to his 15th career shutout, Garon was stable in the crease. This allowed the Jackets' offense to carry the puck and not worry about their zone, and that helped them generate opportunities. As Hitchcock said, “A performance like that gives everyone a real confidence boost:” iIf Garon plays well during his 20 or so starts, Columbus should be looking to win most of them.
While Garon was the backbone of Columbus' penalty kill, the kill itself deserves note. Killing off seven power plays, including two 5-on-3s, the Jackets easily handled pressure in their zone. While strong play and a keen understanding of the opposite players helped them out, taking away passing zones was the best stopper for the Jackets. There were many back-door shots open, but smart pass interceptions kept Columbus in the lead. If the Jackets continue to play with this penalty kill style, they should easily be in the top of the league.
The Bad and The Ugly
Nothing to complain about from this game.
On Tuesday, Columbus will be hosting Calgary at 7:00 p.m. ET.
Know Your Hockey
The Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs (officially called the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club) are the most valuable team in the National Hockey League (as of 2008). They are also one of the founding teams of the NHL (there are only two original members left), and one of the six teams that make up the Original Six.
The Maple Leafs have won 13 Stanley Cups, though their last win was in the 1966/67 season. In the last five years, the team has not qualified for the play-offs. The team has strong rivalries with the Montreal Canadiens, the Buffalo Sabres, and the Ottawa Senators. The Maple Leafs play out of Toronto (the Air Canada Centre) and are members of the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference.
Columbus is 3-1-0, with six points, making them first in the Central. Phoenix is 2-2-0, with four points, making them tied for last in the Pacific. The next game for Columbus will be in Columbus against Calgary on Tuesday, October 13th. Calgary and Columbus have yet to meet this season.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin