Matinee hockey! (Lame intro, but still a better introductory sentence than The Rise of Skywalker featured)
In one of their rare afternoon appearances, the Columbus Blue Jackets hit the ice in Nationwide Arena at 1:00 on Saturday afternoon as they hosted the San Jose Sharks. The Jackets hosted a Kids Takeover promotion, which was fitting because the kids (through injury concerns, mostly), have taken over the lineup. As the team has seen a rash of injuries over the last month, the Cleveland Monsters called up and asked to step into outsized roles have led the team to a twelve game point streak.
#CBJ return to action on Saturday as they take on the @SanJoseSharks at 1 pm ET at @NationwideArena. The Blue Jackets have won three-straight vs. San Jose and are 7-2-2 in their last 11 matinees played with a puck drop prior to 3 pm ET.— CBJ Public Relations (@BlueJacketsPR) January 3, 2020
The Sharks, meanwhile, entered the game on the heels of an overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins but struggling on the balance of the season. The Sharks struggles are directly related to their goaltending - the visitors have the 27th best goals against average in the league and rank dead last in the NHL in 5v5 save percentage. Martin Jones is 13-15-1, with a 3.13 GAA and .893 SV percentage while Aaron Dell is 5-6-2 with a 3.06 GAA and .904 SV percentage.
Prior to the game, the Jackets activated Emil Bemstrom from injured reserve after recovering from his rib injury. Expected to be out six to eight weeks, he returned to the lineup three weeks early.
❗️ CHARACTER UNLOCKED ❗️#CBJ activate F Emil Bemstrom off injured reserve ahead of Kids Takeover matinee.— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) January 4, 2020
In addition to the Bemstrom injury news, it was announced on Friday that Dean Kukan suffered a knee injury and would head to injured reserve. One step forward, one step back. Bemstrom did not draw into the lineup, and Gabriel Carlsson replaced Dean Kukan in the lineup.
Elvis Merzlikins once again got the start in net opposite Aaron Dell. Here’s what happened.
Just 27 seconds into the game, Nick Foligno took a tripping minor in the offensive zone to put the Sharks on the game’s first power play. The Jackets killed the penalty, allowing just one shot on net during the kill. On a two on one a 3:06 following a turnover deep in the neutral zone, the Sharks took a 1-0 lead as the shot from Joel Kellman beat Merzlikins five hole. The Jackets challenged the goal for offside, and the goal was wiped off the board. The teams remained scoreless.
The Sharks dominated the run of play early, generating a large amount of zone time through the first five minutes as Columbus struggled to possess the puck in the San Jose zone. Much of the first stretch of the game featured Sharks pressure before the Jackets cleared, changed, and went back to work in their defensive zone. On a broken play in the Columbus zone, Elvis was able to cross his crease and get enough of a shot to prevent a San Jose goal as the net was gaping.
#CBJ a bit discombobulated to start. Sharks with a 10-1 edge in shot attempts the first eight minutes. Merzlikins smothered a chance in front by Marcus Sorensen early.— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) January 4, 2020
As the period ticked past the midway point, the Sharks continued to dominate play. The Jackets registered just one shot on net in the opening ten minutes of the first period.
The Jackets finally began to find their sea legs with around eight minutes to go in the period. They began effectively using the body, winning board battles, and generated sustained offensive zone time. With 6:29 remaining in the first, Evander Kane was boxed for tripping Sonny Milano after Kane clipped Milano as Milano skated by. The Jackets power play failed to generate any dangerous chances or shots on net and, just as it ended, a terrible defensive zone turnover saw Evander Kane denied by Merzlikins.
With 2:56 to go, a shot from Kevin Stenlund forced a diving cover from Dell as the rebound had bounced into the slot. David Savard forced a glove save from Dell with 2:10 to go as the Jackets began to take control late in the first period. With 38 seconds to go in the first, an Erik Karlsson drive was denied by Merzlikins and Timo Meier missed on the one time effort. After 20 minutes, the score was tied 0-0 and shots favored San Jose 11-9.
The Jackets opened the second period where they left off in the first, working to sustain ice time in the Sharks zone while limiting opportunities to the outside in the defensive zone. To his credit, after a mulligan on the first goal allowed, Merzlikins settled in and had done an admirable job with some big saves to keep the Sharks off the board. Some end to end action saw a Nathan Gerbe half-breakaway turned aside by Aaron Dell before San Jose went to the box as Barclay Goodrow was penalized for slashing Alexander Wennberg. After an awful play in the offensive zone from Sonny Milano, the puck bounced right to Barclay Goodrow as he left the box and he beat Elvis five hole on a breakaway.
Sharks goal (0-1): Goodrow from Hertl, 7:05
Not to be deterred, the Blue Jackets went back to work following the next television timeout. After winning a board battle, Boone Jenner found Zach Werenski who put a backhand far post past Aaron Dell and tied the game at one.
Blue Jackets goal (1-1): Werenski from Jenner and Foligno, 8:50
The goal was Werenski’s 50th of his NHL career. After some end to end action, the Sharks caught the Jackets on a line change and Evander Kane was able to cut across the ice and pick his spot to beat Elvis Merzlikins on a 3 on 2 rush. The Jackets didn’t have a forward remotely close to the play before the goal was scored.
Sharks goal (1-2): Kane from Meier and Simek, 14:40
After a turnover in the neutral zone, Gustav Nyquist had a breakaway with 2:10 remaining in the period but his shot was deflected at the last moment as a diving Logan Couture got a stick on the puck and sent it into the netting. The period ended with the Jackets trailing 2-1 on the scoreboard but leading in shots 21-17.
The third period started with the Sharks on the front foot as they looked to extend their lead, pressuring the Jackets defense and looking to throw any puck toward Elvis Merzlikins. The Jackets could not find a way to generate extended pressure in the opening minutes and were nearly punished as the Thomas Hertl and Logan Couture nearly combined on a give and go to beat Merzlikins but the goaltender was able to turn the puck aside on a sprawling save. With 14:02 remaining Eric Robinson found his way around a slipping Erik Karlsson and got a shot on Dell, but the goaltender was equal to the task.
As the middle of the period ticked by, neither team found an opportunity to generate a dangerous scoring opportunity, though the Jackets maintained a slight edge in meaningless offensive zone time. After a pad save from Elvis with 9:10 to go, the Jackets failed to take advantage of a rush up the ice led by Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno. Merzlikins denied Semic with 8:36 remaining as the teams went to the second television timeout of the period.
After a neutral zone turnover, Kevin LeBanc saw a shot go off the inside of the goalpost before Boone Jenner was denied by Aaron Dell at the other end with 6:30 remaining in the period. With 5:11 remaining, Dell was able to turn aside a Pierre-Luc Dubois chance before a scrum broke out in front of the net.
The Blue Jackets managed to sustain offensive zone time as the clock ticked below four minutes remaining, but the Sharks defense did an excellent job of keeping everything out to outside of Dell. Despite the Sharks boasting the worst 5v5 save percentage in the league, the Jackets could do absolutely nothing to take advantage of that weakness. With 3:01 remaining, Erik Karlsson was able to bounce a puck off of the end boards to Joe Thornton who found Kevin LeBanc for his ninth of the season at 16:59.
Sharks goal (1-3): LeBanc from Thornton and Karlsson, 16:59
After the Sharks goal, the Jackets pulled Elvis Merzlikins and Zach Werenski immediately scored his second of the day as puck movement helped find Werenski open in the slot.
Blue Jackets goal (2-3): Werenski from Milano and Jones, 17:24
Elvis left the net again after the opening faceoff and the Jackets went to work to try to tie the game. The Jackets struggled to set up in the offensive zone before the Sharks iced the puck with 83 seconds remaining. The Jackets called timeout to rest their players and set up a play. Gustav Nyquist saw a puck deflected high into the netting with 23 seconds remaining. The Sharks won the faceoff and cleared the puck. Columbus was unable to re-establish zone time, and the Sharks escaped with a win.
San Jose Sharks 3 Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Zach Werenski is on an absolute heater of late and deserves all of the praise heaped on him.
Werenski now has seven goals in his past seven games, with his seven goals since Dec. 21 tied for the most in the NHL (WPG Connor, 7). His 13 goals on the seasons are tied for the second-most in the NHL among blueliners (NSH Josi, 14). #CBJ— CBJ Public Relations (@BlueJacketsPR) January 4, 2020
Elvis played alright, but he was beaten five hole twice (though one was called back due to the offside challenge). He has to continue to clean up his mistakes and he was never going to go undefeated in every start, but he has to stay sharp.
Mental mistakes ultimately outdid the team in this one. A lazy line change, a terrible pass from Sonny Milano to spring Barclay Goodrow, and poor play in the defensive zone for much of the third period ultimately doomed the Jackets.
The Jackets head out on their California/Vegas road trip next week, with the first game of a back to back Monday night as they visit the Los Angeles Kings. Faceoff is set for 10:30 PM EST.