The Florida Panthers came to Nationwide Arena in a rematch of this season’s earlier Sergei Bobrovsky vs Elvis Merzlikins tilt. Bob had the last laugh the first time around, but things were different this time. The Columbus Blue Jackets ran away with a 4-1 victory as Elvis stood tall, Zach Werenski notched his first career hat trick, and Bob was given a reminder of what it is like to play with a competent defense.
Here are the details.
Elvis was in the building for his first ever home start. He’d been shaky in his last couple of appearances. Combine that with a relatively toothless offense that could let Bob get into a groove and there was a huge need for the Jackets to score early. Elvis seemed slightly jittery to start but made his first save easily.
Bob touched the puck and was booed. Totally his fault that the FO didn’t want to match his price. Very good reason to boo him!
The play was disjointed in the first few minutes of play, but Elvis made his first three saves. This broke a streak of him allowing a goal on one of his first 3 shots – things were looking good. And soon they looked even better! Less than five minutes into the game, Alexander Wennberg won a face-off back to Werenski who was able to wind up his slapshot and absolutely smashed a puck past Bobrovsky.
Shortly afterwards, David Savard was called for a slashing penalty which provided the opportunity for the Bobrovsky tribute – that 2 on 0 save he made is still one of my all time favorites – and then it was back to business. Florida had a couple of good chances on that power play but Elvis stood strong.
The Jackets were outshot 10-2 in the first 9 minutes of the game. Not the best way to ease your new goalie into things. However, the ice began to tilt a bit. Paledragon All-Time Most Jackety Jackets Forward Nick Foligno started laying big hits and the Jackets started putting more shots on goal. By the end of the period, Columbus had caught up in the shot counter.
Unfortunately, at some point, Alexandre Texier went to the locker room and would be declared out for the rest of the game with an upper body injury.
Columbus leads 1-0
Early in the 2nd period, the Panthers controlled actual possession of the zone and rented space in the Columbus offensive zone. Less than four minutes into the period, they’d even the score at 1 after a Colton Sceviour deflection of an Anton Stralman shot. Nothing Elvis could do on that one, the deflection was just about perfect. After that goal, Florida still controlled play although David Savard had a good opportunity.
A scary moment occurred when Wennberg, down on the ice after being interfered with by Josh Brown, found himself right in front of a Gabriel Carlsson shot. The puck went off Wennberg’s head. Play would soon, but not immediately, be whistled dead and Wennberg would ultimately skate to the bench on his own. The puck apparently went off his cheek or that part of the helmet strap thereabouts – he’d have a cut and bruising to show for it. Wennberg would miss part of the 2nd period, but would return.
The Jackets and Panthers traded power plays – Florida didn’t do anything on theirs, but Boone Jenner did! After a series of passes, the puck would find its way to the slot where Jenner took a couple of swings at it. The second swing connected and the puck snuck through under Bob’s leg. The Jackets took the 2-1 lead on the Jenner goal with assists from Gustav Nyquist and Wennberg.
The period would end with more Florida time in the CBJ zone, but Elvis was up to the task.
After two periods, the Panthers outshot the CBJ 29 to 21, but the Jackets maintained a 2-1 lead.
After a couple of minutes in this period, my only thought was, “Nathan Gerbe should be in the NHL fulltime”. That man’s play far outsizes his…size. The play early on was frantic from both teams but neither could muster a shot on goal. Until Werenski got his stick on the puck. Quick passes and a slight gap in the defense allowed Werenski to get within the right circle and snipe a shot past Bobrovsky. Florida would challenge for goaltender interference, but it was clear that Aaron Ekblad had caused Fligs to impede Bob. The goal would stand and David Savard and Jenner would earn assists.
Goal stands 3-1 #CBJ— Alison (@AlisonL) January 1, 2020
Werenski will get the score but tremendous work by Jenner - particularly behind the net to retain possession - to create the cycle that scored.
Assists to Savard and Jenner. pic.twitter.com/Z8QNkhS2xo
Just under four minutes later, it would be déjà vu. Werenski again got the puck with space, skated into the circle, and snapped a wrister past Bobrovsky. That Florida defense is…uh…in need of improved awareness. That’s not our problem, though.
That would give Zach Werenski three goals and fans littered the ice with hats. Hats are expensive.
Late in the third, Bobrovsky was pulled during a 4 on 4 sequence. Nothing doing for Florida and Bob was back in net with over 2:30 left in the game. Seemed odd – if you’d do it at 5 on 4, why not 6 on 5? Gerbe and Nyquist both had ENG opportunities blocked by Ekblad and I am disappointed Elvis didn’t try it himself.
The third period would end with the Jackets up 4-1, so the game ended with that score. Elvis Merzlikins has finally earned that first NHL victory in his first home start of his career! He’d finish with 36 saves on 37 shots for a .973 save %. Easily his best game of the season.
- The power play would finish 1 for 3 with a few other good chances
- Several young Monsters are showing they could be NHLers. Maybe 4th or 3rd liners, but there’s room to keep growing
- Savard and Seth Jones each had 5 blocks
- Vladislav Gavrikov defines unsung hero this season. That dude makes so many quiet plays
- Dean Kukan and Gabriel Carlsson didn’t see much third period ice time
- Ryan MacInnis was 100% on the face off dot