The Blue Jackets and Predators didn’t quite have their full NHL squads on display for their penultimate preseason game, but after yesterday’s cuts it wasn’t far off, either.
With Sergei Bobrovsky and Pekka Rinne in net, and guys like P.K. Subban, Ryan Johansen, Zach Werenski, Cam Atkinson, and Nick Foligno on the ice, it felt a good preview of what these teams are going to look like when the league kicks off the 2017-18 season for real.
The Jackets didn’t waste any time on opening the scoring, with Pierre-Luc Dubois setting up Oliver Bjorkstrand for his second goal of the season, but unfortunately the Predators had an equally quick answer when Scott Hartnell took the puck off the boards and put the puck past a screened Bob from a bit of a goofy angle.
Neither team would score again in the first period, but the Jackets’ special teams took a pretty good shot at it from both sides of the puck, with the power play forcing Pekka Rinne to stand on his head several times to make point blank saves, and the penalty kill taking advantage of a lazy Nashville PP to nearly score on a shorthanded odd man rush that ended with Ryan Murray drawing a penalty to wipe out the man advantage and give Columbus a brief PP to start the second period.
That power play would convert when Torts sent the first unit out to open the second period, with Artemi Panarin doing some excellent work to keep the puck moving on the cycle before sending the puck across the ice to a waiting Alexander Wennberg, who put a shot on net that Nick Foligno would tip home for the 2-1 goal.
At different points the Jackets looked like world beaters and trash fires, but watching Sergei Bobrovsky pull off several major saves was a nice moment, and forward lines continued to click, in particular the line of Panarin, Wennberg, and Atkinson, who dominated the puck nearly every time they touched the ice.
Panarin figured into the next goal as well, jumping on a lazy outlet pass and getting the puck over to Zach Werenski, who hammered a shot past Rinne to extend the Columbus lead.
That 3-1 score would hold until five minutes into the third period, when Kevin Fiala scored on a delayed penalty, picking up a pass from Filip Forsberg and picking up his third goal of the preseason - all of them against Columbus.
The Predators would tie things up late in the third thanks to a blistering shot from Matt Irwin that Bobrovsky didn’t have much chance on, and overtime was stating to seem more likely, but to their credit the Jackets didn’t give up, putting a great deal of pressure on Pekka Rinne and holding the puck in the Nashville zone for a significant chunk of the remaining time on the clock.
There was a hopeful moment in the final seconds when Panarin and Foligno combined for one last rush up the ice, but the Captain couldn’t quite get his shot out in time, and the fans down in Nashville would be treated to some bonus hockey.
The Predators had a chance to shut things down when a penalty on Seth Jones gave them a power play early in the 3 on 3 OT, but Bob and the defense held, and though it appeared Nick Foligno might have ended it in the dying seconds, review of the shot showed the puck crossed the goal line after time had expired, so we were off to a shootout.
Kevin Fiala would score for the Preds, but after Panarin utterly destroyed Rinne and Bob denied Viktor Arvidsson, Alexander Wennberg was able to give Columbus a 2-1 lead in the shootout, and after a stone cold save on Ryan Johansen, the Blue Jackets skated out of the music city with the 4-3 win.
Making observations wasn’t easy with the iffy feed from the Nashville in-arena cams on Fox Sports Go, but the biggest compliment I can give the squad is that it felt like a regular season game, in many ways, and even when the Jackets did struggle they never felt completely overmatched.
Tonight was an excellent demonstration of how dangerous Panarin can be and what he brings to the roster, and players like Sonny Milano and Dubois made it clear they want their shot at the big leagues, and are going to force the club to make some tough calls in the next few days. The level of skill on display from all four lines was exciting at several points, and you have to think it bodes well for the future of the club.
One regrettable piece of news came late in overtime - Lukas Sedlak blocked a hard shot from P.K. Subban and was clearly struggling when he skated back to the bench. Sedlak went down the tunnel to the training room after the end of the OT period, with no update on his status as of yet. With luck it won’t be anything major - he deserves the chance to play for this team on opening night.