Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Winless No More

To say that Scott Arniel has no pride in his work would be an outright lie. The man is fiercely proud of his work, his troops, and his record as a coach, so the winless start to the season that the Blue Jackets were putting together had to have him frustrated to no end. Considering that the Blue Jackets were playing the Detroit Red Wings tonight, Arniel could be forgiven if his team fell further into the hole they had dug at 0-7-1. However, on a night when James Wisniewski returned to action from his preseason suspension, the cards fell for the Blue Jackets in a different way than they had earlier this season, and the last winless team in the NHL no longer has a goose egg in the wins column.

Columbus not only took it to a seemingly-asleep Detroit Red Wings squad, but scored their first win without prized acquisition Jeff Carter. Many, including this writer, expected Detroit to come out with a fire in their bellies after getting hammered by Washington in their previous game by a 7-1 score. Instead, the same meek Red Wings team played another stinker against the NHL's worst team to this point.

"It's almost that we lose one game and it's almost like we're 1-5 instead of 5-1," Henrik Zetterberg told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. "We're a little tight with our sticks. We don't make plays; we're not executing. It's almost that we have no confidence at all.

"We've just got to play our game and move the puck. We should be able to bypass them and play in their end. I think we were prepared, I just think we didn't execute. Coming in here, we had a pretty good record, but somehow we don't play like that. We play like we almost have Columbus' record."

Regular Detroit backstopper Jimmy Howard was in Detroit with his newborn son and wife, so the veteran Ty Conklin got his second straight start after the shellacking that Washington laid on him. This game didn't start any better for Conklin as he allowed an RJ Umberger goal just 21 seconds in.

"We knew they were going to be desperate and play well, especially in front of their home fans," Nicklas Lidstrom told St. James. "We knew they'd go after us a little bit more in our zone and they did that, too. They scored on the first shift. They set the tone early in the game."

With fans in Columbus calling for the heads of GM Scott Howson and head coach Scott Arniel to roll, the win comes as some relief to both men. The hopes of salvaging this early low point in the season starts here and now after this win.

"I don't think anyone in that dressing room has been through the three weeks of hell we just went through," Scott Arniel said to the Associated Press. "The psychological, the emotional, everything that came with it. It was a lot of baggage."

While Rick Nash struggled on the night, the Blue Jackets saw Ryan Johansen and John Moore score their first NHL goals of their respective careers, and Derek MacKenzie hit the open net to ice the 4-1 victory. The Blue Jackets played with desperation - something Detroit was clearly lacking in this one - and they were rewarded for their hard work.

It doesn't get any easier for Columbus as they look to build on this win. They close out October with road games in Buffalo and Chicago before welcoming the Anaheim Ducks to Columbus. While this has been a trying October for Columbus fans thus far, it could be a one-win October if Columbus doesn't muster some offence against three solid clubs.

As for Detroit, things will change for the better. There's no doubt that they have the talent on paper to compete with the NHL's best, and this hiccup will be corrected as they move forward. From what I watched, though, the effort and determination - two Red Wings traits - simply weren't there on this night. If they were looking past the Blue Jackets, this game will serve as a solid reminder to live in the present because anyone can beat anyone else.

If the Red Wings are going to just skate through the motions, though, they have no one to blame for their loss themselves. "There's no excuse for what happened tonight," Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said.

Everyone in the NHL now has a win. I didn't think it would take this long, but who would have expected the mighty Red Wings to take the night off against Columbus? Maybe now, Arniel can work on restoring his confidence in a somewhat-shaken club with the 900-pound gorilla off their collective backs.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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