Not so fast, Blue Jackets!
I was actually uncomfortable watching tonight’s Columbus/Edmonton game. It’s rare that you see a game that thoroughly embarrassing from most college teams, let alone NHL teams with professional ice hockey players. Columbus may have outshot the injury-and-benching-depleted Oilers 39-19, but it was outscored a whopping 7-2. That’s right: Pascal Leclaire, apparently a professional athlete who was in fact quite good last year and not a bison friche puppy in goalie pads, gave up SEVEN goals on NINETEEN shots. To the Oilers.
I honestly cannot think of a worse night from any goaltender in the 15 years or so I’ve been watching hockey on an addictive level. At least, not one that played the entire game.
I don’t like to, and in fact I believe I never have, refered to a beat writer’s musings on a game when giving out my own, but I had to make an exception in this case. Aaron Portzline does a great, great job over at the Columbus Dispatch’s Puck Rakers blog, and his thoughts on tonight’s game were of great importance to me, in no small part because I wanted to make sure what I had actually seen was not some insane hallucination. It wasn’t, and that kind of made my soul hurt.
How could any NHL-caliber goaltender, let alone the one who was among the league’s elite in EVERY statistical category, lay an egg quite so humorously large?
Now, okay, to be fair to Leclaire, he only gave up three goals through the first two periods and the game was, at that point, still within reach, even if the Oilers had a 3-1 lead despite a 29-8 shot advantage for the Beejes. While you never want your goalie posting a .625 save percentage at any point in a hockey game, I can almost see not giving him the hook. Almost. Only two of those goals, after all, were at even strength.
But then the Oilers scored 7:44 into the third to spread the lead even wider and, I’m sure, the patience of those valiant Blue Jackets fans in attendance even thinner. It was Edmonton’s fourth goal on 11 shots. For some reason that I can only imagine involves some sort of sado-masochistic relationship between Leclaire and Ken Hitchcock, Steve Mason stayed on the bench as a fashionable hat model (pick up your official Steve Mason cap at shop.nhl.com!).
Then the Blue Jackets scored to pull within two again. No need to pull Leclaire now, there’s a game to be won! Except Leclaire didn’t stop the flow of blood that was cascading like a river from inside his crease. He instead decided to open the wounds further to facilitate the evacuation of said blood and gave up three goals on six shots in the space of just 2:03. Ballgame.
Portzline reported that after the game, Hitchcock said he didn’t give Leclaire the hook because, “it all happened too quick. If he had it to do over again, he said he would have pulled him after the fifth goal.”
The FIFTH? Why even trot him out there for the third period? Why let him stay in after the fourth goal put Edmonton up by three? How did a three-, four-, or five-goal deficit sneak up on an NHL coach? I understand that the team has little to no faith in any of its goaltenders, but Mason isn’t 12-of-19 bad. In fact, the worst he’s been is 22-of-26 bad. That’s a difference of .214 in the ol’ save percentage category on Mason’s WORST day. They fired Barry Melrose for less than this.
Not that the Blue Jackets helped Leclaire’s cause any. Their play in all three zones was poor, but they were especially woeful in their own end (gasp!). Relatively simple attacking plays were cutting through the Columbus D with surgical precision, and the penalty kill was just atrocious. Any time you give up a pair of PPGs to the Oil on three kills, two of which were abbreviated by previous Edmonton penalties (and one of those was just 29 seconds), you had a Lehman Brothers-type day at the office.
I don’t know who could have enjoyed a game like this. Even the staunchest Oiler supporter must have at least felt the slightest urge to pop in their “Old Yeller” DVD for a little bit of a pick-me-up.
It would be terribly tragic if it weren’t so goddamn hilarious.
Minnesota 2, Pittsburgh 1 (SO)
Marc Jordan Staal is in a contract year, in case you couldn’t tell. He set up the only Penguins goal tonight and got into a scrap with mediocre AHL tough guy Erik Reitz. AND he won. ‘Course, while he did all that, the rest of the Penguins couldn’t solve Nicklas Backstrom, who made 24 saves. Likewise the Wild of Dany Sabourin, who made the same. Your goals came from Mikko Koivu and Matt Cooke. So hooray?
Carolina 2, Montreal 1
Sergei Samsonov and Ray Whitney scored goals 3:27 apart in the third period to lift the ‘Canes over the surprisingly disappointing Habs. Carolina gave the Habs six power plays, and the should-be-amazing Habs PP unit scored once. That is, surprisingly, an upgrade over their output to this point in the season by almost two percent. Carey Price was pretty astonishing, making 46 (forty six!) saves in the loss. Killa Cam Ward needed only to stop 28.
Florida 4, Tampa Bay 3 (SO)
Did you want to watch this game? Me neither. Good thing it wasn’t on TV anywhere in any capacity. Unfortunately the NHL had someone keeping stats there, so here is my dutiful, three-sentence report: “Bryan McCabe scored twice for the Panthers but a third-period comeback featuring goals from Evgeny Artyukhin and Steve Eminger forced an overtime that eventually went to a shootout. Nathan Horton’s shootout goal was the game-winner. All three goals for the Lightning came from players who came into the night looking for their first of the season.” Rick Tocchet has hit the ground running. Shootout losses for everyone!
Chicago 3, Phoenix 2 (SO)
Both Nikolai Khabibulin and Ilya Bryzgalov stood on their heads tonight, making 78 combined saves. Power play goals in the second and third period from Zbynek Michalek and Shane Doan, respectively, helped the Dogs come back in this one and earn a loser point. Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp scored for the Injuns, and Jonathan Toews scored in the shootout to win it.
Calgary 4, Colorado 1
Hilariously, David Moss scored his first of the year on the power play only after Jarome Iginla scored into an empty net from center ice to make it 3-1. Calgary peppered Peter Budaj all night, forcing him to make 47 saves, a large majority of which, luckily for him, hit him square in the chest. Rene Bourque and Adrian Aucoin had the other Calgary goals and big Mikey Kippersoft finally pulled his head out of his ass and made 22 saves.