Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said Friday morning that his team's puck management decisions would go a long way toward their success or failure against Minnesota. In order to establish their forecheck and put pressure on a Wild team that played the night before, the Blue Jackets had to be smart with their dump-ins and make the Wild's defensemen skate to retrieve pucks and made plays under duress.
Not only did the Blue Jackets do that, but when they created turnovers, they made sure to get the puck on goal. When all was said and done, it was a convincing 4-0 win - their second straight shutout - and a season-high in shots on goal with 41, including 14 in the third period.
Could this be a team that's turning a corner? We'll find out over the next couple of weeks, but they are off to a strong start in the Curtis McElhinney era. They held a 2-0 lead after two periods, and rather than sit back and lull the Wild to sleep, the Blue Jackets kept going. They got pucks deep, sent two guys in on the forecheck and forced the Wild into a ton of mistakes, which was one of their focal points heading into the game.
The penalty kill, which has struggled at times this season, helped turn the game around for Columbus. Back-to-back penalties in the second period gave Minnesota a 73-second two-man advantage and a hugemongous chance to get right back in the game - but the Blue Jackets never even let it approach "dangerous" status. MacKenzie, Letestu and Tyutin were on the ice for the entire 5-on-3 and turned what could have been a huge boost for Minnesota into a relative afterthought.
Here are some random thoughts, notes and observations...
- Columbus is now 23-20-4 all-time vs. Minnesota (15-7-1 at home). With tonight's win, the Blue Jackets are now 7-4-3 in their last 14 games and 4-1-1 in their last six home games. Not too shabby for a team that really struggled at home earlier in the season.
- Six points for the all-of-a-sudden red-hot line of Umberger, Johansen and Foligno; Umberger and Foligno each contributed a goal and an assist, and Johansen picked up a pair of assists to boost his team scoring lead. Johansen is now at 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 28 games.
- Time to update this stat once more: Columbus is now 35-0-0 under Richards when leading after 40 minutes.
- The Blue Jackets have quietly become one of the best face-off teams in the Eastern Conference (still feels weird typing that, but I'm getting used to it). They went 55 percent in the circle tonight and Dubinsky led the way going 8-for-12 (67 percent). Only Johansen, at 40 percent, finished below the 50-50 mark among Jackets centers tonight, but he's still well above that watermark overall.
- McElhinney's shutout was the second of his career, his first as a Blue Jacket and first since Feb. 5, 2011 against the Colorado Avalanche when he played for Anaheim.
- Tonight was Umberger's 400th game in a Blue Jackets sweater, and he's the fifth player in franchise history to reach that milestone. Not a bad way to celebrate.
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