COLUMBUS, Ohio – It was a game of firsts Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena. Unfortunately for the Red Wings, all of the firsts were in the favor of the Blue Jackets, including their first win of the season.
Jackets rookies Ryan Johansen and John Moore each scored their first career NHL goals, and goalie Steve Mason made 30 saves as the Jackets defeated the Wings, 4-1, in front of 15,100 fans, who were elated to finally see their team win for the first time in nine games this season.
The Wings didn’t help themselves much by playing short-handed for a great deal, collecting a season-high seven penalties. Even though the Jackets scored just once on the power-play, it was tough for the Wings to generate any offensive consistency with a procession of players that headed to the penalty box.
The loss was the second straight for the Wings, who were coming off a 7-1 defeat at Washington Saturday.
From the opening face-off, the Blue Jackets played with an immense intensity, which paid off immediately when R.J. Umberger fired a rebound past goalie Ty Conklin just 21-seconds into the game.
“A start like that tonight is just a lack of preparation,” coach Mike Babcock said. “It wasn’t good enough. You knew that Columbus was going to play hard. You knew that they were going to find a way to win a game. So our urgency had to match theirs and it wasn’t there. It was disappointing. Our coaching staff obviously didn’t do a good enough job, our players didn’t do a good enough job.
“There’s no excuse for what happened tonight.”
The Jackets continued to keep the heat on, firing another four shots at Conklin over the next two minutes. However, the Wings slowly gained momentum and tied the score at 4:54 when Darren Helm collected his first goal of the season.
The hustle of the Wings’ third line contributed to the tying goal. Justin Abdelkader rushed behind the Jackets’ goal and bounced a pass off the middle of the end-boards to Helm, who was stationed all alone on the left side of Mason. It took a few whacks, but Helm eventually pushed the puck past Mason high to the right catching glove.
The Wings got caught on a line change, and were whistled for a too many men penalty, setting up the Jackets’ first power-play. Slipping behind the Wing’s defense, Columbus regained its one-goal lead when Johansen scored from behind the net. It was the rookie center’s first NHL goal of his career, coming at 8:56 of the period.
The play was setup by defenseman Grant Clitsome, whose shot from the right point narrowly missed the net wide, where it was picked up by Johansen, who swept a shot off of the bottom of Conklin’s left skate.
The Jackets’ continued to buzz the offensive zone and could have widened their lead, but a shot by Johansen hit the right post with about six-minutes to go, and Conklin came up big against center Derek MacKenzie, who had a great scoring change from the slot.
“When you’re standing there and it’s not going, you can keep standing and have it not go, or you can try to do something about it,” Babcock said. “But obviously what I did, didn’t work.”
The Jackets looked like a team that was playing for its hockey lives, which in reality, they really are. And the Wings never really matched that intensity as the Jackets held edges in shots (14-6), hits (13-6), and face-offs won (8-5).
The period started off in similar fashion as the last one ended, with the Jackets carrying the play and their forwards cycling the puck down low in the Wings’ zone.
Yet the Wings managed to keep the Jackets off the scoreboard early, but did so with a little help from the goalie’s best friend when Derek Dorsett blasted a shot that beat Conklin, but clanged off the left post at 1:07.
The Wings’ first power-play of the period came at 7:14 when center Samuel Pahlsson was called for hooking. While the Wings were able to generate some pressure, their man-advantage was short-lived when Zetterberg went to the penalty box for holding at 8:52.
The tempo began to pick up late in the period when the Wings had their best chance to tie the score. The chance came courtesy of Filppula who skated in on the left wing, made a nice move to beat Clitsome at the top of the circle, and zeroed in on Mason, who made a nice save from close range to keep the score 2-1.
“I think we bounced back,” Zetterberg said. “We had a few chances, but it’s almost like we lose one game and we’re almost like 1-5 instead of 5-1. We’re trying up our sticks, we don’t plays. Not executing, like we don’t have confidence. We have to play our game and move the puck. They were coming hard, but we should be able to bypass them and play in their end.”
Moments later, Conklin came up with a gem of his own, stopping center Antoine Vermette, who took a cross ice pass and broke in all alone from the blue line. But Conklin made a spectacular sprawling save at 13:21.
But the Jackets reestablished momentum when they capitalized on a giveaway deep in the Wings’ zone. The play resulted in another Columbus rookie getting his first NHL goal. Center Cody Bass worked the puck away from a Wings’ defenseman along the wall, and slid a pass to John Moore at the left point. With the puck standing on edge, Moore sent a slap shot that beat Conklin high on the short side.
Through two periods, the Jackets have done a stellar job of isolating the Wings’ No. 2 line of Filppula, Jiri Hudler and Johan Franzen, who combined were help to one shot in the first 40-minutes.
Though Babcock continued to mix the lines, putting Datsyuk with Holmstrom and Franzen, and Helm with Hudler and Todd Bertuzzi, nothing seemed to work for the Wings.
One particular non-scoring play got the crowd to its feet when Ericsson and Rick Nash battled for puck-possession behind Detroit’s net. The Wings’ 6-foot-4 defenseman tripped the Jacket’s 6-foot-4 captain, who landed hard on his upper back and head. Ericsson received a tripping penalty, and on the ensuing power-play, Nash was nearly rewarded with a goal that would have extended the Jackets’ lead to three. However, after a point-shot pinballed out in front of the Wings’ crease, Nash tried to push the puck past Conklin, who was down on the ice. But Nash’s attempted hit the right post where Conklin then covered it.
By the midway point of the period, frustration among some of the Wings was evident. Datsyuk was pushed head-first into a wall in the offensive zone, but nothing was called. Seconds later, the Wings’ center was called for tripping MacKenzie in the neutral zone. The penalty was Datsyuk’s first minor infraction since last March 16.
The Wings had chances to get back into the game, but any hopes of pulling even were dashed by three third-period penalties.
“You can’t be killing penalties in the third period,” Babcock said. “If you’re playing in the offensive zone, and grind them, then they’re taking penalties.”
The Jackets sealed their first win of the year when MacKenzie scored his first of the season on an empty net with 54-seconds left.