The Columbus Blue Jackets entered this game looking to snap a 4 game losing streak - the longest of the season. In the previous 3 games (against the top 3 teams in the league), the Jackets found goals very hard to come by. Could the offense snap out of it tonight?
The start of the first period was great. The first 8 shots on goal in the game were by the Jackets. Winnipeg didn’t get their first shot on goal until almost 7 minutes into the game. As Columbus controlled possession, it was clear that the Jets were not on the same level as the previous opponents.
The scoring opened shortly thereafter, and it was all Nick Foligno. The captain intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, then took off down the ice. At the left faceoff circle, he executed a gorgeous toe drag and scored past rookie Eric Comrie (making his NHL debut).
Later in the period, Scott Harrington served a double minor for high sticking. For the most part, it was a great PK by the Jackets. Many different forwards saw time on the PK and kept the puck in the neutral and offensive zones. Unfortunately, 4 minutes is a very long time and near the end of the penalty Jacob Trouba scored. It was the first of many defensive breakdowns in the game. It was also the first of many penalties. Of course Columbus didn’t get any PPs of their own.
Rather than gaining momentum from a huge kill, the Jackets instead stayed out of sorts and surrendered another goal before the end of the period. Blake Wheeler forced a turnover on the forecheck, then skated the puck around the zone before centering it to Mark Scheifele for the goal.
The second period didn’t start any better. Mathieu Perreault recovered a LONG rebound off Comrie and skated down the ice on a breakaway. Seth Jones and Lars Karlsson tried in vain to defend but they couldn’t get in position in time.
Fortunately the game swung back in the direction of the Blue Jackets. They maintained their offensive possession and it paid off. BJORKSTRAND chipped the puck out of the defensive zone, and Brandon Saad managed to fight off Nelson Nogier and secure the puck for a breakaway. You know how we’ve been hard on Saad for his inability to finish? Well, he finished this time. Saad is a player who always skates hard and has lots of offensive skill. He can be streaky, but if he gets hot for the playoffs that will be a huge weapon.
You know who also needs to snap out of a funk, and who has lots of skill? Alexander Wennberg. Who is paired with Saad now. Bryan Little - who was the player of the game for Winnipeg - attempted to clear the puck from his zone. Somehow Wennberg was able to stop the puck right at the blue line. Like, as close as possible to leaving the zone without actually doing so. As the defensive was caught off guard by this, Wennberg shot from near the blue line. Saad was in perfect position to hammer home the rebound. The teams would go into the second intermission tied.
In the third, the Jets broke the tie on another power play. It was Trouba again, this time from long distance. He shot dead on through traffic and Korpi had no prayer of stopping it.
The lead was extended 5 minutes later. Julian Melchiori chipped the puck out of his zone, and a leaping David Savard was unable to keep it in. The puck landed at the feet of a cherry picking Perreault, who fed Little for the score.
As we’ve seen during this losing streak, the Jackets don’t quit. With 6 minutes remaining, BJORKSTRAND again made a great exit pass, this time across the ice to Scott Hartnell. Hartnell got down near the red line and passed to the crease, where Boone Jenner was waiting. I am fine with this Jenner-as-center experiment continuing. I like the Hartnell-Jenner-BJORKSTRAND line.
A late 6-on-5 attempt by Columbus was unsuccessful and was met with boos from the crowd. Again, they failed to create enough shots when it mattered.
With this loss and Pittsburgh’s win over New Jersey, Columbus is locked into the 3rd seed in the Metro, and will start the playoffs at Pittsburgh.
Jets rookie and Columbus native Jack Roslovic had 1 shot in 8:24 of ice time in his NHL debut.
The Jackets’ Corgi was 59.26%. They had 39 even strength scoring chances, to 24 for Winnipeg. Foligno suggested after the game that the offensive explosion was some much-needed “therapy” for the team.
The season ends this weekend with a road back-to-back at Philadelphia and Toronto. Let’s hope the scoring continues (from the Wennberg and Jenner lines in particular) and the defense bounces back.