Last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets made it to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Though they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs, they played well, and got their fans into it. Over the summer, deals with captain Rick Nash, Rusty Klesla, and Antoine Vermette helped to keep the team solid. Looking to use these three veterans, as well as their new faces, CBJ was ready to start this season's campaign.
With 18,000+ fans on hand (a sellout), the Jackets started their 2009-10 season off with a bang. In the first period, they dominated the Minnesota Wild as they skated right over them. Winning face off after face off and all the battles at the boards, the Blue Jackets looked like a team on a mission. Though they didn't manage to convert on any of their 11 shots, they controlled the puck well, and had many great chances.
When Period Two started, the Jackets were rearing to go. Right off the bat, the team was shooting on the net, and checking like crazy. When Derick Brassard and Samuel Pahlsson were called for penalties, the rest of the team backed them up, easily killing the power plays. During the later one, Marc Methot popped the puck away from a Minnesota player, Andrew Murray hit it forward, and R.J. Umberger (1) shot it for his first goal of the season. The rest of the period went by without any incident.
While the Jackets were hoping to continue dominating in Period Three, the Wild had a totally different plan. When Nikita Filatov was called for tripping, the Wild used the power play to tie the game up. Andrew Brunette got the puck from Mikko Koivu and shot it in behind goaltender Steve Mason. Though this took the crowd out of the game for a few moments, they were not out for long. Six minutes later, Rusty Klesla (1) got a pass from Jakub Voracek and sunk it into the net. This gave the Jackets the lead, and ended up being the game winner.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Steve Mason is a name that you will probably see mentioned fairly often in this column – like once every other article. Fresh off his rookie season, when he won Rookie of the Year and was a runner-up for best goalie in the entire NHL, Mase is looking to dominate between the pipes. In today's opener, he did just that. Saving 32 of the 33 shots taken at him, Mason produced a 96.67 save percentage and shut down everything coming his way. Though he let out too many rebounds, his flailing limbs blocked shot after shot. If Mase keeps this up, the Jackets should easily make it back to the playoffs.
Like Mase, CBJ fans started just where they left off. Hosting a sellout crowd, Nationwide Arena was rocking. Until the end of last season, the fans were not really into the team, but they finally are. This is extremely important, as it helps to sell CBJ, and helps the players play better. As Umberger put it, “The crowd was awesome – they were really on their feet, especially at the end there. It’s good to see them stick around and last and not just jet out to beat the traffic. That shows good fans.”
The Blue Jacket's powerplay was the laughing stock of the league last year. This year, it doesn't look much better. During their first power play, the Jackets looked pretty good, but they didn't manage to score at all. However, during their second one (really two), when they had a full four minutes with an extra man, the Jackets were dominated. They could not control the puck, keep it in the offensive zone, or get any shots off. If the Jackets want to keep on winning, they need to work this out.