Columbus took fans for a bit of a ride last night in a preseason game against Carolina that featured everything from drastic comebacks to wardrobe malfunctions. Ultimately, Columbus pulled out a 5-4 victory over the Hurricanes, thanks in large part to the combination of Marian Gaborik, Boone Jenner, and Nikita Nikitin.
The Blue Jackets started the game strong, knocking back two goals to Carolina’s one, despite being outshot 15-7. We’ve seen a lot of that kind of game from Columbus in the preseason, both against the Penguins and the Sabres, though less so in last night’s confrontation with the Wild. It’s hard to say whether victories in the preseason are more important than nuance — like possession stats — given that the games have no affect on the regular season. Still, as we saw from Columbus last season, there’s a lot to be said for the momentum that comes with winning.
Things got harried and flustered at the start of the third period, and the Blue Jackets gave up three goals to Carolina in the first eight minutes. Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Johansen took penalties for Columbus, but managed to kill both power plays. Neither team took particular advantage of power-play opportunities tonight; Columbus went one for seven and Caroline one for four.
Jack Johnson played big minutes, as he did during last night’s loss to the Sabres, but felt the pressure from Carolina throughout the game. I’m not just saying this because he’s my favorite player: the guy is unflappable. Even with Carolina so intent on outmanning him that they took a penalty for too many men on the ice, Johnson managed a solid game that never felt as rushed as the rest of the team during those terrible first minutes of the second period.
Hilariously, Alexander Semin took a delay-of-game penalty for tucking in his shirt, which violates the strict new no tucking policy instituted by the NHL this season. The rule states that the player will first receive a warning, which apparently Semin decided not to heed.
Toward the end of the second period, a heroic effort from Johansen closed the score gap to 4-3, which seemed to settle the Blue Jackets’ whole attitude. They skated well for the rest of the period and kept up with Carolina with eight shots on goal to Carolina’s eleven.
The Blue Jackets really came alive in the third quarter, scoring twice more (Gaborik and Collins) and radically slowing the pace of their game down as they held on to the lead, playing with more control and less frantic passing. Both third period goals had an assist from Dubinsky, who stood out as one of the game’s biggest players. In the final period, Columbus outshot Carolina 16-8.
Both McElhinney and McKenna played solid games; McElhinney saved 18 of the 22 shots on goal, though McKenna’s performance stood out for flair (McKenna didn’t let any shots in, but Carolina also shot significantly less while he was in goal).
Clearly, Columbus enjoyed the taste of success that we saw at the end of their season last year and are looking to be a serious contender in their new division. Way to go, boys. You’ve earned yourself some Phil Collins.