Every now and then, the Blue Jackets decide that their coach knows a thing or two.
When they listen, good things tend to follow. Tonight was no exception.
From the drop of the puck, the Blue Jackets played with an intensity that reminded fans of the team they watched early this season, one that forechecked aggressively and played collective defense in front of their goaltender. After being called out by his coach, Fredrik Norrena rebounded nicely in the second half of a back-to-back and made 17 saves, earning his fifth career shutout in a 4-0 win.
Another missing link required for the Blue Jackets' success this season reared its head last night: secondary scoring. When the team was winning in October and November, the offense was spread out, and for stretches in December, they stayed afloat thanks to the offensive outbursts of Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev. When the two hot sticks went cold, so did the team. Such was not the case against the Blackhawks.
Nikolai Khabibulin started very strong, withstanding an early power play that saw the Blue Jackets fire off five quality shots in the first minute of the man advantage. He twice made key saves on laser-like wristers from Nash, and robbed Michael Peca on a point-blank deflection late in the first period to keep the game scoreless.
One of the weak points for Chicago all year has been their goaltending, and as the Blue Jackets turned up the heat, Khabibulin wilted.
If fans thought two of the goals allowed by Norrena
against Nashville on Tuesday were "soft," they got a better visual from Khabibulin. Joakim Lindstrom fired a seemingly harmless wrist shot from 45 feet out just seconds into the Blue Jackets' second power play early in the second period, and it went through a gaping five hole and behind Khabibulin. It was the Blue Jackets' first power play goal in 14 chances, giving the home squad the important first goal.
Recent call-up Clay Wilson, the AHL's fourth-leading scorer among defenseman, played in his second NHL game and displayed the impressive speed that scouts rave of. He scored his first career goal (and an important one, at that) to put the Blue Jackets up 2-0, moments after a crafty move to walk around Duncan Keith that nearly beat Khabibulin.
David Vyborny was quiet (surprise) for most of the night, but contributed a timely goal to put the Blackhawks to sleep. Andrew Murray leveled Craig Adams behind the net, freeing up the puck for Vyborny to toss it into the crease, where Brent Sopel booted it past his goaltender. Let's not get excited; chances are slim to none that Vyborny is retained after this year. I hope he has one hell of a going out party next Sunday afternoon.
--It's games like these that re-affirm my belief that Ron Hainsey will be let go on July 1. He appears to have quit at times, and his play in the defensive zone has been spotty of late.
--Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are outstanding talents, but please...put Patrick Sharp back on their line. The Blackhawks can't even figure out what position Dustin Byfuglien is going to play.
--Michael Peca's goal showed why he's one of my favorite Blue Jackets. There was no teammate in sight when he stole the puck on the half wall, and he walked to the net and meant to bank it off Khabibulin. His smirk said it all.
--Ken Hitchcock's arms are glued together before the game. They never come unfolded.
--If the Blue Jackets bring this kind of energy into Friday night's game with Nashville, they could charge people to watch from home and dub it a UFC bout.
--If I were Khabibulin, and my defenseman played in front of me like that, I'd want out of Chicago immediately. Then again, most fans share a similar feeling.
--Neither Nash or Zherdev scored a goal tonight....and the Blue Jackets won? Naw.