With the slacking off of all of the hullabaloo surrounding last week’s trade of Nathan Horton to the Toronto Maple Leafs for winger David Clarkson (not that there was much hullabaloo to begin with), the Columbus Blue Jackets put their new forward right to work with a pair of back-to-back weekend matinee games. Although expectations were not altogether high that he would make an immediate impact, it’s nevertheless a great time to reflect upon Clarkson’s initial performance and hand out his first grade as a Blue Jacket.
As news of the trade broke, Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen focused on the theory that a change of scenery would be just what Clarkson needed in order to return to the kind of play that he showed himself capable of during his time as a New Jersey Devil – physical, gritty, and productive. Such a style of play, explained Jarmo, should fit in seamlessly with head coach Todd Richards’ basic game plan. And what better way to prove, or thwart, such a theory than a match-up against Clarkson’s former-former team at home just the day after he arrives in Columbus?
Thrust onto the first line with Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno, Clarkson likely felt that he was skating in a fishbowl once more. To a degree he was, though not one so critical as that in which the Toronto media placed him. Given the change in teammates and system, Clarkson managed to acquit himself against the Devils in satisfactory style – two shots on goal, four hits, and the block of an Andy Greene shot. Clarkson spent 19:24 on the ice, including 3:11 on the power play, but disappeared with 5:33 left in the game as the Blue Jackets killed off a penalty and made a late push to reach the scoreboard. They would not, and fell to the Devils 2-0.
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The only real negative play by Clarkson in his first game as a Blue Jacket was a boarding penalty that he committed against New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus early in the third period. Did this influence Richards’ decision to keep Clarkson on the pine during the Jackets’ final push? Likely not, but it seems that Clarkson’s much-heralded gritty style of play would have been useful in those desperate closing minutes.
On Sunday, the Blue Jackets descended upon Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins for their second late afternoon game of the weekend. Unlike his Columbus debut, Clarkson was bumped down to join Artem Anisimov and Scott Hartnell on the second line. Although the Jackets cranked up the offensive production a bit, Clarkson was nearly invisible as Columbus ultimately fell 5-3. With just 14:31 of ice time, including 1:22 on the penalty kill, Clarkson only managed 3 hits with no shots on goal. Offsetting his unremarkable offensive stats, he did manage a 57% face-off percentage and drew a holding penalty from Simon Despres that, not unexpectedly, the Jackets couldn’t capitalize upon.
So although Clarkson didn’t exactly melt the ice with big, or even memorable, plays, neither did he do any real damage. No turnovers, solid passing, cleanly bringing the physical play (for the most part), and exhibiting solid ice presence in an unfamiliar system with unfamiliar teammates is really all that can reasonably be asked of Clarkson at this point. Held against that criteria, Clarkson easily earns a passing grade.
The next test is a big one as the Jackets take on the Washington Capitals and the league’s goal-scoring leader Alex Ovechkin. It’ll be interesting to see if Todd Richards moves Clarkson back up to the first line to match up with Ovechkin, leaves him where is, or tries him out on the third line.