Aftermath No. 9: Detroit
We talked this morning about the Blue Jackets needing an "all hands on deck" kind of effort tonight against the Detroit Red Wings. Safe to say they got it.
Their only real stumble was a defensive breakdown on Johan Franzen's first-period goal, but other than that, they kept a tidy house and made sure the Red Wings didn't have much space to make plays. Their game plan was executed fairly well: get the puck in deep behind their defense, finish checks, and make the Red Wings come the length of the ice.
Steve Mason was the second star of the game in an official capacity, but he kept the ship afloat with some big stops in the second period. He made 32 on the night and deserved to earn his first victory of the season. And if there's one thing that has not ailed the Blue Jackets this year, it's play between the pipes.
Perhaps most encouraging for coach Todd Richards is the way his team kept pushing, even after opening a two-goal lead late in the second period. They got a handful of chances in the closing minutes of the middle stanza and nearly made it 4-1 before time ran out, but entered the third period with (yes, you're reading this correctly) a two-goal lead in front of a rocking crowd at Nationwide Arena.
They stayed on their game and didn't allow any quality chances, even as the Red Wings put on a hefty push in the third period. Rather than get back on their heels with a late-game Detroit power play, the Blue Jackets' rock-solid penalty kill unit picked up on a mistakes and made the Red Wings pay for it.
Let's wrap things up with my breakdown of tonight's game:
1. Defense steps up: The Blue Jackets had to play essentially the final two periods with five defensemen (as did the Red Wings), and a very young defense corps shouldered a big responsibility in shutting down Detroit's best players. Jack Johnson led the way with nearly 35 minutes of ice time -- breaking his own franchise record -- and spent the majority of it on the ice against Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Damien Brunner.
2. Special teams were special: Columbus was perfect on the penalty kill, scored shorthanded, and notched a power-play goal in tonight's victory. The Blue Jackets were 5-for-5 on the kill and that effort bumps them up to seventh-best in the NHL (85.7 percent), and it's always an added bonus when you can score a huge goal on the PK like they did tonight. Their first-period power play tally was key, as well, rebounding from a rough patch and coming back to tie the game.
3. Forechecking to the fore: You could see it almost from the first shift -- the Blue Jackets played like a team that knew its opponent played a hard game the night before. Richards was able to roll with four lines and keep the legs fresh to play their physically demanding style, and he got quality minutes from all 12 forwards and six defensemen. When the Red Wings dropped to five defensemen, the Blue Jackets ramped up the pressure and forced Detroit into some overextended shifts. They played "on their toes," as Richards likes to say, and simply outworked their opponent tonight.