Inside the NHL’s bubble, teams get just one exhibition game to shake off the rust before the qualifying round begins this weekend. The Columbus Blue Jackets made the most of their opportunity with a dominant 4-1 win over the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins.
First, a note on the opponent
Not to rain on the parade, but this was not Boston at their best. Tuukka Rask was playing through a broken finger. David Pastrnak had missed all of training camp while quarantined. They were a step slower than the Jackets throughout the first period. That’s all it took, as the Jackets scored three goals in the opening frame. It was more even after that, but Boston couldn’t close the deficit.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. While their upcoming games matter for seeding, their playoff lives are not immediately at stake like they are for the Blue Jackets. We needed this game to answer some questions for Sunday. The Bruins can still figure things out through their round robin games. Also, with their extensive playoff experience their veterans know how to flip the switch when the time is right.
A note on the environment and the broadcast
I hadn’t watched any of the previous exhibitions, so this was my first time seeing the arena and how the broadcast was presented. For the most part it wasn’t too different from the usual TV experience. I’ve liked having crowd noise as ambient background noise of a baseball game, but I didn’t miss it in this one. There was enough noise from the skates, sticks, and shouting among the players. The lights and tarps were not a distraction; my focus was on the ice so the stuff around the edges didn’t register.
Ok, let’s get to the game. Let’s focus on what we learned about the biggest lingering question marks.
The time was split as evenly as possible, with Joonas Korpisalo starting the game and playing 29:51. Elvis Merzlikins then came in midway through the second period and played 30:06. Korpisalo stopped all 11 shots he faced, while Merzlikins got 12 saves after allowing a goal on his first shot against.
It looks bad, but there’s a reason Pastrnak led the league in goals this year. He did have some nice saves later:
Overall Korpi faced more high danger shot attempts (3 to 2) but Elvis’s average shot distance was 4.73 feet closer.
With the Jackets defense being their usual stifling self, neither goalie was tested enough for us to draw any definitive conclusions about who should be the starter going forward. Whichever way you were leaning before, you probably feel the same now. I still think it should be Elvis, but he’ll need to be a little more calm in the crease.
The Power Play
Good news: the Jackets scored a power play goal! Bad news: it was on a rush, and the rest of their PP minutes revealed the same old issues: stationary positioning, off-target passes, and a disturbing lack of close range chances. In 5:49 of 5v4 action, they recorded nine shot attempts, but just three of those on goal. None were high danger attempts. Look at this crap:
Let’s give some credit to that one goal, because it was a nice one. Even if it didn’t come from the typical PP structure. It was set up by a series of crisp passes from Jones to BJORKSTRAND to Dubois to Nyquist.
We waited a long time to say this, but...— x-Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) July 30, 2020
THE GOOSE IS LOOSE pic.twitter.com/jDz4dqbycm
Let’s also show some love for the 4 on 4 (just seconds after a 4 on 3 expired, so the fourth player couldn’t get on in time) goal by Zach Werenski, again set up by some perfect passing (and a faceoff win!). Why can’t they just do this every time?
The kid picked up where he left off in February and was again an impact player. He made a great play to put the Jackets on the board in the first period. First, he was able to intercept the puck in the neutral zone to stop a Bruins possession before it could get started. Then he carried the puck back into the offensive zone, with his linemates in tow. A great pass through traffic found Boone Jenner waiting on the back door to tap it in.
I knew Foudy had the size and speed for the NHL, and was smart away from the puck. I wasn’t sure if his hockey skills were sufficient to help against Toronto. If this pass is any indication, I am no longer worried.
He was tied for the fourth most used CBJ forward at 5v5, with 12:07 minutes played.
His possession numbers weren’t great (7 shot attempts for, 13 against) but he made some nice plays in the defensive zone. He looked comfortable with Dubois and BJORKSTRAND and they probably deserved to score in this game (Both Dubois and BJORKSTRAND hit the goalpost at least once each). Texier did get a goal, this one of the empty net variety with just 1.5 seconds left. Of note is the assist came from Nyquist, who was tied for the league lead this season in empty net goals (6).
Kukan vs. Nutivaara
The battle I was most interested in was between Dean Kukan and Markus Nutivaara for the sixth defenseman spot, paired with Ryan Murray. With each team allowed to ice an extra forward and defenseman, both played tonight. Kukan played 9:34 of 5v5, with a 40% CF% (6-9). Nutivaara played 6:37 of 5v5 with a 36.84 CF% (7-12). Murray, meanwhile, managed a 54.55 CF% (12-10) in 12:13. Kukan took no shot attempts, while Nutivaara’s three shot attempts were all on goal. I’ve always preferred Nuti, but I think that offensive element to his game would be reason enough to give him the nod.
The Blue Jackets will finally begin their postseason on Sunday night at 8 p.m. against the Toronto Maple Leafs.