Columbus entered Wednesday night having lost 6 of their last 9, as well as 3 of the last 4 at home. They were 8-10-1 since the end of the Streak. Monday’s game against the Rangers was well-played, but still a loss. Would this game be any better?
From the opening faceoff, the Blue Jackets came out playing with a lot of urgency. The passes were crisper and they spent a lot more time on the attack than Toronto did. Toronto has many great, young offensive weapons but they were nowhere to be found early on.
In the fifth minute, Columbus caught Toronto on a line change. William Karlsson and Josh Anderson streaked into the offensive zone, with Anderson up the middle and Karlsson with the puck down the right side. Karlsson sent a pass down the red line and Anderson crashed the crease and knocked it through.
Initially there was no call on the ice, but after review it was clear that the puck slipped under former Jacket Curtis McElhinney before he fell into the net.
Later in the period, the red hot Brandon Dubinsky line struck again. Boone Jenner rushed the end boards and passed the puck around the net to Dubinsky. Dubi fed Zach Werenski at the blue line, who fired at the net and Boone flipped the puck over McElhinney’s glove to make it a 2-0 game.
McElhinney giving up a juicy rebound and getting beat high gloveside: sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Nice to be on the other end for once.
In the middle period, the strong play continued. Part of the success came from very aggressive play around the puck. Nazem Kadri had his pocket picked at center ice by Brandon Saad. Alexander Wennberg collected the puck at the boards and sent a gorgeous pass through traffic to new linemate Oliver BJORKSTRAND (filling in for the injured Scott Hartnell and getting an opportunity to show his offensive skill on a skilled offensive line). The Great Dane had a full head of speed, hesitated just enough to freeze McElhinney, then beat him high glove side for his first goal of the season, in his first NHL game since December.
This was the first “chili” chant in Columbus since the 1/21 game against Carolina. Oof.
But wait! There’s more!
The once-vaunted Columbus power play had gone cold in recent weeks, in part due to lack of work and in part due to sloppiness. That first unit got back to what works and got a goal midway through the second. Zach Werenski fired a shot from deep through traffic, and Nick Foligno deflected it off his body into the goal.
Before the second period ended, Kadri broke the shutout by scoring in traffic. The goal came at the end of a long defensive zone shift. Joonas Korpisalo - making his first start since January 31 - had no chance with all the bodies in front of him.
Still, give Korpi a lot of credit. In the third period the Leaves had 26 shot attempts to just 6 for the Jackets, yet Korpi allowed just one more goal. Once again Columbus had difficulty getting possession of the puck, and getting it out of the zone. Look how many defensive zone faceoffs there were:
And no 5v5 offensive zone faceoffs after the first period. Still, Korpi stepped up and made saves like this:
I’ve been very hard on Korpi for his play this season. He looked far more comfortable tonight. Perhaps his two games with the Monsters last week built his confidence and kept him from getting rusty?
For all our concern with the backup goaltending situation, Columbus is 5-3-2 in games not started by Sergei Bobrovsky. It’s a step down from Bob, but it’s still good enough.
Despite that second goal from Kadri and a power play late in the third, the Jackets defense held strong and Matty Calvert iced the game with an empty netter with 2:21 remaining.
This win takes Columbus to 36-15-5 on the season. Last season they only won 34 games, total. They are tied with Pittsburgh at 77 points (Pitt has a game in hand) and will host those Penguins on Friday night. They are 2-2 on the homestand with that Friday game and a Sunday game against Nashville before the bye week.