Columbus Blue Jackets Elvis Merzlikins put on a Vegas performance worthy of his musical namesake on Saturday night, earning his first NHL shutout to put a stamp on the team’s road trip finale with a 3-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
On a night playing against a frustrated team closing out a home stand, the Blue Jackets survived a potent attack and delivered a high-quality road game. Vegas struggled to maneuver for much of the night and Merzlikins stopped 27 shots to help the Blue Jackets grab two important points as they look to gain ground in the playoff race. Emil Bemstrom, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alexander Wennberg scored for Columbus, one per period.
Saturday night looked like Blue Jackets hockey is supposed to. Slowing down the opposition, smart offensive gambles paying off, solid penalty kills, good goaltending. Lose the shot edge 11-2 in the second period? No big deal, just score on one of your two shots.
- It’s hard to overstate how helpful the call-ups have been. Kevin Stenlund picked up two assists for his first multi-point game and Nathan Gerbe made a slick play for an assist of his own. Stenlund also blocked two shots and drew Columbus’s only two power plays, one of which resulted in a goal that he helped score.
- Elvis rules. He made some huge saves (you kind of have to in a shutout) and deserved the clean sheet. Thrilled for him.
- Vegas out-possessed and outshot Columbus, finishing with an xG% edge of 1.89 to 1.11, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. Gerard Gallant called it “a soft game” for the Golden Knights afterward and said they couldn’t create anything all night. It was one of those games where the numbers favored Columbus, but the Blue Jackets took advantage of their chances and seemed in control despite their statistical shortcomings.
- Columbus with points in 15 of the last 17.
- CBJ draft pick Keegan Kolesar made his NHL debut for Vegas. He logged 12:06 over 15 shifts with one shot and two hits.
- This warms my heart (courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com). The best offense is a good defense, right?
- Back home against Boston on Tuesday.
Both teams came into Saturday night hyping the need for a strong first period. The Blue Jackets didn’t impress anyone offensively to start, starving for shots over the first 10 minutes and taking a Boone Jenner penalty 4:33 into the game. Elvis stoned Paul Stastny and stopped another to survive the game’s first power play, keeping the game scoreless early on.
Stenlund drew a power play for the CBJ at 11:45 (Stastny, slashing), which proved the turning point for Columbus in the period. They didn’t score—despite a great rip from Gustav Nyquist off the rush and an agonizing net front scramble—but the PP did produce four shots to even the count at 7-7 and allow the team’s playmakers to find a groove.
Stenlund drew another penalty soon after (Jon Merrill, interference) and the Blue Jackets capitalized. Some crisp passing throughout the Vegas end eventually led to a dazzling Bemstrom slapper and a 1-0 lead on the road.
1-0 Blue Jackets, Bemstrom (4, PP) from Jones (21) and Stenlund (1) at 16:38
The goal gave Stenlund his first NHL assist.
Columbus kept Vegas on their heels for the rest of the period, pushing the play and taking a 1-0 lead into intermission.
The Blue Jackets wasted little time adding to their lead, scoring 2:06 into the second period. Marc-Andre Fleury went behind the net to stop a puck, where PLD swooped in and forced a turnover. Dubois then parked himself in front of Fleury to tip in a Scott Harrington half-slapper, giving the Blue Jackets a 2-0 edge early in the stanza.
2-0 Blue Jackets, Dubois (15) from Harrington (3) and Milano (11) at 2:06
Good on PLD for creating the second-best MAF-behind-the-net-turnover-for-a-CBJ-goal in franchise history.
Neither team created much until Boone Jenner went back to the box at 8:01 for tripping. Columbus kept bodies in front of pucks to allow only two Vegas shots on the power play, but Elvis snow angel in his own crease to stop Cody Eakins late in the man advantage. Excellent work from the rookie netminder.
Eric Robinson has shown his explosive speed often this season, and he gave another glimpse midway through the second when he blew past Derek Engellend for a mini-breakaway. Fleury managed to kick Robinson’s shot away, but you can add it to the list of neutral-zone highlights for the Princeton product this year. That and PLD’s goal were the only two shots in the second, but both qualified as high-danger chances.
The Blue Jackets took one more penalty late in the second, this time for too many men on the ice with 2:53 left. Elvis made a dazzling save—the only one he had to make on the power play—by going left to right to stop a quick Stastny shot 33 seconds into the PP. The rest of the penalty passed without incident and the CBJ headed into the final period with a 2-0 lead.
Vegas appeared to get on the board in the period’s first minute...at least for a second or two. Reilly Smith’s shot hit the crossbar, but it was enough to set off the arena’s goal horn and lights. It did not fool not the official, notably, who immediately signaled no goal. Columbus’s two-goal lead and shutout stayed intact.
Vegas kept its foot on the gas pedal. Between periods, Cody Eakin said the CBJ had kept his team to the outside and Vegas would need to use its team speed to generate offense. They did just that early in the third, flying into the zone to give the Golden Knights some golden opportunities. A long CBJ shift in the Vegas zone (and a big David Savard block) finally broke the siege and the Blue Jackets hit paydirt a few minutes later.
Zach Werenski cut off a bad Vegas dump at the blue line, finding Nathan Gerbe near center ice. Gerbe bounced a pass off the boards to Stenlund, who connected with an open Alex Wennberg skating in. Wennberg beat Fleury low stick-side for his first goal in 36 games, making it 3-0 good guys.
3-0 Blue Jackets, Wennberg (3) from Stenlund (2) and Gerbe (3) at 8:26
Brings a tear to the eye, that play. Nathan Gerbe should play in the All-Star Game.
The Columbus defense and Elvis took it from there, limiting Vegas to three more fruitless shots en route to the shutout win.