In our post-relevant era, few teams have given us more fits than the Columbus Blue Jackets, who we’ve gone just 5-14-1 against since the end of the 2014-15 season. Of course we haven’t played the Blue Jackets in nearly twenty months due to the division changeover and COVID-shortened schedule last year and this isn’t your older brother’s Jackets team with no John Tortorella, no Artemi Panarin and no Sergei Bobrovsky. Columbus is supposed to be if not rebuilding, at least retooling with first-year coach Brad Larsen.
Yet yesterday was your typical same bleep, different year loss to the Jackets.
It looked like the Devils would actually give the just over ten thousand fans in attendance a treat for most of the afternoon, but horrible games from defenseman Ty Smith, third-string goalie Scott Wedgewood and our usual anti-power play turned a late third-period lead into another frustrating shootout loss. Just as well I decided to use yesterday’s game for a credit trade-in (you get to choose six games and apply the listed season ticket amount toward next season’s invoice, I’ve already done three including two of the preseason games).
Part of me actually wouldn’t have minded going just to see what kind of Halloween-themed stuff they incorporated at the arena, I noticed a different type of intro behind Erika Wachter during the pregame but whoever thought Sunday at 5 PM on Halloween would be a good start time in general needs their head examined. I barely even felt like tuning into the game after a shockingly emotional Jets game and unexpected hero of the afternoon Mike White, much less really sitting down and watching it intently. I was listening to it at least and they reeled my attention in when Jesper Bratt and Andreas Johnsson combined for the latter’s fourth goal of the season (and third in less than twenty-four hours) after just 67 seconds. It’s early, but Johnsson looks like he’s going from zero to hero this season and just months after being left unprotected – and unpicked – in the expansion draft. God knows we could use some unexpected scoring since many of our expected scorers haven’t been doing the job so far.
Not that prosperity lasted long for the Devils yesterday, after one rare evening where special teams were a positive factor, they were again a net negative last night with our penalty non-kill unit allowing yet another PP goal when Oliver Bjorkstrand’s shot slithered through Wedgewood. Timing screwed us in terms of our starting goalie yesterday, you weren’t gonna play a Jonathan Bernier on a back-to-back who’s been fighting injury since the beginning of the camp and Mackenzie Blackwood is still a couple of practices away from his return so voila you have one more game of Wedgewood, which proved to be one too many. Of course you can’t really blame a third-string goalie for playing like a third-string goalie, but it proved to be particularly annoying yesterday.
Of course Wedge was far from the only goat yesterday as Ty Smith’s turnover led to the second goal, which was a typical Patrik Laine wrister that handcuffed Wedge. It looked like another dead effort for the first period and much of the second but as if their internal clock turned on and told them a hockey game was underway, the Devils suddenly struck bang-bang in the second period to turn a typical CBJ loss into a…hey we might have something here game. If I was gonna name three stars after this game they would have been Johnsson and the two goalscorers here – Dawson Mercer (again) and Dougie Hamilton. Mercer scored his goal on a straight wraparound, corralling the puck behind the net in traffic, twisting around and beating Joonas Korpisalo for the third goal of his young career so far. Barely a minute after Mercer’s goal, Nico Hischier teed up Hamilton for a one-timer from the side that beat the Blue Jackets goalie and gave the Devils a 3-2 lead.
Almost as if his own light switch turned on, Korpisalo immediately switched into god mode after that, keeping his team in the game with a series of good saves combined with putrid finishing on our part. Overall we outshot the Blue Jackets 26-10 in the final two periods including 14-3 in the third. Like coach Lindy Ruff said after the game, we were playing the way you want to play with a lead. Part of me couldn’t help but wonder when the penalty call was going to come since third-period penalties made games against the Blackhawks and Kraken go from in the bag to dicey. Instead of a penalty that proved to be a fly in the ointment, it was another turnover from Smith who’s clearly struggling from his lack of a camp and perhaps still playing his way into shape after his undisclosed injury. This turnover was even worse than the first one as a careless clear in the middle of the ice under next to no pressure turned into a great individual play by Boone Jenner, grabbing the puck and beating three Devils to the front to score.
Guess you could say the injuries finally caught up with us yesterday. Not that the third goal was a particularly great one for Wedge to give up either, but that one you gotta lump the bigger part of the blame on the second-year defenseman. Even with that disastrous sequence the Devils should have still won the game in regulation when back-to-back Blue Jackets penalties gave the Devils three and a half straight minutes of power play time, including over half a minute of a 5-on-3, all of which the Devils promptly wasted. Oh they did get some good shots on the first end of the PP but the 5-on-3 was a disaster, as four guys wasted most of the time trying unsuccessfully to get the puck from Jenner along the boards, then when they finally got the puck they couldn’t even get a shot the remainder of that, or on the second 5-on-4.
I knew at that point we were probably cooked. In a best case, I knew we’d have to win the game before the shootout, cause we were never going to win a shootout with Wedge going against the Columbus shooters, never mind our own inconsistent (at best) offense. Of course so it came to pass, with the Blue Jackets almost toying with us in the shootout as their first two skaters missed the net, but of course we went 0-3 and of course when Jakub Voracek did hit the net, he scored and sent everyone home with a proverbial rock on Halloween.
One guy you can’t blame is Hamilton, though I’m not doing a three stars there still needs to be some kind of acknowledgement of an insane stat line and I don’t mean his goal or even ten(!) shots on net, apparently only the second Devils defenseman in history to get as many as ten shots in a game with Bruce Driver being the other. However the overall team production with and without Hamilton is even more insane
On the one hand that bodes pretty well for Hamilton being worth his contract and having the advertised impact, on the other that doesn’t exactly bode well for the rest of our D, considering everyone there is healthy at least.