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Game #1 Preview: A new era begins in Columbus

Here’s what you need to know

Arizona Coyotes v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

Thursday, October 14, 2021 - 7:00 EST
Nationwide Arena - Columbus, Ohio
TV: Bally Sports Ohio; Radio: 97.1 FM
Opponent’s Blog: Five for Howling

Arizona Coyotes

at

Columbus Blue Jackets

The game I look forward to the most each regular season is opening day. I love the buzz outside and inside the arena. I love the pageantry of the introductory videos. Most importantly, it’s a reset and a fresh start. Every team starts with the same record. Get a win in the first game and you’re one step towards 82-0 immortality (in theory).

This season is even more of a reset than most for the Blue Jackets. Gone is John Tortorella, the longest-tenured and winningest coach in franchise history. In his place? His former assistant, Brad Larsen, in his first NHL head coaching gig. Gone are lineup fixtures and locker room leaders like Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, and David Savard. Jake Voracek returns after a decade in Philadelphia, bringing us full circle from that disastrous J*ff C*rt*r trade. Also returning is Gus Nyquist, who missed all of last season recovering from shoulder surgery.

Many new faces are making their CBJ debut: Jake Bean from Carolina, Adam Boqvist from Chicago, and local boy Sean Kuraly returns home from Boston. Gregory Hofmann and Cole Sillinger are ten years apart but each are making their NHL debut (hopefully Yegor Chinakhov joins them by Saturday if not tonight).

Some things haven’t changed, thankfully. Leading scorer Oliver BJORKSTRAND returns, with a contract extension that he signed prior to last season. Zach Werenski, Elvis Merzlikins, Eric Robinson, and Boone Jenner also signed multi-year extensions.

It may take awhile for the old and new players to gel, and for the new coaching staff to install their systems and coach up the young players. The schedule is long and difficult. A playoff berth seems unlikely per most projections, but this season will be more about the journey than the destination. It starts with a single step tonight.

Player to Watch

Elvis Merzlikins

Jackets management appears to have reached a decision in the two year goalie battle between Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo, with Merzlikins earning a five year contract extension that kicks in next season, and Korpisalo still scheduled to hit free agency in the summer. Accordingly, Merzlikins gets the start for the first game. Will Korpisalo automatically start on Saturday? Neither goalie is good with rust, and each gets better with a heavy workload. Both Larsen and Kekalainen have insisted that the hot goalie will play more, contract be damned. I have my doubts about that.

The challenge for Elvis is to find some consistency. He started slowly in each of his first two NHL seasons, but after a couple of months finally hit his stride. The other obstacle was missing time with injury.

An extra reason to watch him tonight is the memory of Matiss Kivlenieks. The fellow Latvian goaltender was more than just a teammate; they were best friends. They were like brothers. Kivi died in a tragic fireworks accident in July, with Elvis nearby. Elvis has dedicated the season to Kivi’s memory. Reminders will be everywhere tonight. His number, 80, will be painted behind the goals and will be on every Jacket’s helmet sticker. A banner will be displayed in the rafters. Kivi’s family will be in attendance for the opening puck drop. Will the emotion of the night be a distraction for Elvis, or a motivation?

Jackets Notes

Boone Jenner will wear the “C” for the first time, becoming the seventh captain in franchise history. Werenski, BJORKSTRAND, and Nyquist are the alternate captains ... Cole Sillinger becomes the first 18 year old of the Jarmo era to play for Columbus. He also becomes the first son of a Blue Jacket to also wear the Union Blue ... Once again, the Blue Jackets are the youngest team in the NHL:

The Other Bench

Per Five for Howling, just seven of the players on Arizona’s 23 man roster are signed beyond this season ... Alex Galchenyuk is starting the season on IR, while Phil Kessel is considered day-to-day ... Hey, remember Ryan Dzingel? He’s apparently a Coyote now. Another former Jacket on the roster is Anton Stralman, who was on the team so long ago that he was teammates with Voracek ... Unlike the Jackets, the Coyotes are going captainless for now after the trade of Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Season Series

10/14/2021 ARI @ CBJ
11/18/2021 CBJ @ ARI

Stats

Arizona Columbus
2.68 (23) GPG 2.39 (29)
3.11 (22) GAPG 3.29 (24)
20.8% (13) PP% 15.4% (27)
80.8% (11) PK% 79.0% (20)
48.7% (17) 5v5 Shot Attempt % 46.5% (27)
48.0% (23) 5v5 Unblocked shot attempt % 47.0% (27)
8.1 (16) 5v5 Shot % 7.2 (30)
.913 (22) 5v5 Save % .913 (22)
Phil Kessel, 20 G Leader Oliver BJORKSTRAND, 18
Conor Garland, 27 A Leader Oliver BJORKSTRAND, 26
Phil Kessel, 43 P Leader Oliver BJORKSTRAND, 44
Lawson Crouse, 46 PIM Leader Max "Madman" Domi, 75
12-14-2 Home / Road 11-9-8

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
Patrik Laine Alexandre Texier Jakub Voracek
Gus Nyquist Jack Roslovic Oliver BJORKSTRAND
Boone Jenner Cole Sillinger Max Domi
Eric Robinson Sean Kuraly Gregory Hofmann
Zach Werenski Jake Bean
Vladislav Gavrikov Adam Boqist
Dean Kukan Andrew Peeke
Elvis Merzlikins
Joonas Korpisalo
Arizona Coyotes
Lawson Crouse Nick Schmaltz Clayton Keller
Ryan Dzingel Johan Larsson Loui Eriksson
Christian Fischer Jay Beagle Dmitrij Jaskin
Antoine Roussel Travis Boyd Andrew Ladd
Jakob Chychrun Conor Timmins
Shayne Gostisbehere Anton Stralman
Ilya Lyubushkin Victor Soderstrom
Carter Hutton
Josef Korenar