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Jackets play well, squander opportunities, lose in shootout

At least Elvis looked good

NHL: NOV 12 Blue Jackets at Canadiens

As the Columbus Blue Jackets entered the final leg of a three game roadtrip, their lineup featured several new faces. Out were the suspended Nick Foligno, the punished Joonas Korpisalo, and the scratched Scott Harrington and Kole Sherwood. Enter Riley Nash, a healed Ryan Murray, and the recently recalled Elvis Merzlikins and Eric Robinson.

With the rookie goaltender in net, the Jackets played one of their best, most-focused defensive games of the season. Alas, two third period goals surrendered cost them a regulation win, and an inept overtime power play sent the game to a shootout. Getting a road point is always good, and a .500 road trip is acceptable. However, that second point was within grasp and they’re going to kick themselves for not sealing the deal.

Let’s look at the good and bad from tonight. Starting with the good:

Elvis seizes the opportunity

Korpi earned a benching thanks to his post-goal reactions on Saturday, so Elvis’ trip to Cleveland was cut short to start this game. From the beginning, the young Latvian appeared locked in. As elpalito noted in our writers’ Slack channel, “Elvis does one thing better than Korpi, by far. He uses his edges like Bob does. He does not slide further than he wants to slide.” I noticed him appearing very steady in the crease. He didn’t have to make many crazy saves because he was usually positioned well that no save required maximum effort. Even as Montreal turned up the pressure in the third period (11 scoring chances for), Elvis kept this as a winnable game. He did allow two goals then, however.

The first one was a bad goal. Zach Werenski and Seth Jones had Brendan Gallagher marked as he entered the zone. Either one could have challenged him at the blue line (ideally Seth, with Z defending the pass), but each had his stick in the shooting lane. I think Elvis did not expect Gallagher to shoot such a long distance shot. But shoot it he did and it found its way between the legs.

The second goal was less on Elvis. It came with 40 seconds remaining in regulation, with Carey Price pulled for an extra skater and the Canadiens winning a post-icing faceoff. Nick Suzuki made a gorgeous pass across the Royal Road to a wide open Tomas Tatar in the right circle. NOTE TO BRAD LARSEN: This is what good teams do with the man advantage.

In the shootout he made two saves but got beat by Jonathan Drouin on a backhand shot through the five hole.

Eric Robinson: The Crown Princeton of the fourth line

I was disappointed to see Sherwood scratched, because I thought he had been playing well. Fortunately Robinson proved management and coaches right for putting him in the lineup. He ended up tied for second on the Jackets with five shot attempts (all situations) despite having a team low 8:42 time on ice. In the first period he scored his first career NHL goal. In 14 games in the previous two seasons he had not even earned a point. Zach Werenski fired a shot on goal and Emil Bemstrom hustled to get to the rebound behind the goal line. Without taking time to settle it, he fired a perfect pass to Robinson in the slot. His shot beat Price, who was otherwise at the top of his game all night.

He and Bemstrom played great all night and I don’t know why they didn’t get more shifts.

Zach Werenski is an offensive weapon

Z led the team with eight shot attempts, and earned a goal and assist. Unfortunately he was on ice for both goals against, but let’s focus on the positives here. With the game tied at 1-1 and just two minutes remaining, he burst off the bench to get to a puck which Riley Nash had passed across the ice to the far boards. From there, Werenski was wide open against Price. That’s a goal scorer’s goal. Props to Nash for his work shielding the goalie.

Alright, so what didn’t work?

Where art thou, Cam Atkinson?

I’m worried about Cam. It’s one thing if he’s just unlucky - and he certainly is that, shooting just 4.7% coming into tonight. This shootout attempt is a perfect example of that:

But it’s not just that. I could forgive that if he were otherwise making an impact, or helping his linemates score. Instead, he was invisible for much of the game despite being on ice for 21 minutes. He had only three shot attempts in that time. That’s just not good enough, and it’s so uncharacteristic for him.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: power play woes

Fire Larsen. The first power play was abysmal, with each unit giving up breakaways before getting any chances of their own. Fire Larsen. The second power play was better, with each unit getting good looks and the team getting five shots on goal. Still, Fire Larsen. Then there was a power play in overtime, and despite having a 4 on 3 advantage they could not score, and while getting three shots on goal they also gave up two shot attempts against. Fire Larsen. Most baffling about that OT PP is that dynamic young forwards like Emil Bemstrom and Alexandre Texier were stapled to the bench. Fire Larsen.

In summary

Elvis gave up one soft goal, but overall had a very good game and gave his team a chance to win. He has proven that he deserves closer to an even split with Korpi.

Emil Bemstrom continues to grow in confidence and he deserves more ice time. Ditto for Sonny Milano and Alexandre Texier. Why didn’t any of those three get tapped for the shootout? Especially given the woeful efforts of Gus Nyquist and BJORKSTRAND there.

Ryan Murray had to be helped off the ice late in the second period after taking a shot off the inside of his knee. Thankfully there was no damage and he returned to the ice at the start of the third after the initial pain had subsided during the intermission. It’s so unfair if Murray were to be hurt again so soon after returning, and the defense is so much better with him in the rotation.

The Jackets return to Columbus for a three game homestand, featuring the defending champion Blues on Friday, these same Canadiens next Tuesday, then Detroit next Thursday. All are prime opportunities for the Jackets to earn points and more importantly gain some confidence.