The Columbus Blue Jackets came to Edmonton on a 2-6-1 skid, but had an opportunity for a rare road win by facing an Oilers team that had lost six straight and were missing their head coach due to COVID protocols.
Instead, we once again saw the Jackets give up a flurry of goals and be unable to respond in any meaningful way, losing 5-2. Here are the key points in case you didn’t stay awake for the game (and for that I could not blame you):
Even at even strength
If you look at just the 5v5 numbers, you’d think this was a close match-up. The Jackets had a 52-48 edge in shot attempts. The quality wasn’t there, however, with the Oilers having the edge in 5v5 expected goals, 2.64-2.46. Actual goals were even at 2-2.
Despite those numbers, the game never felt that even. I think it’s because that’s all it ever was: even. After going down by multiple goals early, the Jackets were never able to establish a sustained push. It was always just neck-and-neck, and that’s just not enough when you’re trailing by multiple goals.
Credit to backup of the backup Stuart Skinner, who made some great saves when he had to.
Blocked shot problems
Speaking of shot quality, I’m seeing a worrying trend where the Jackets are having a high number of shots blocked. Tonight, the Oilers stopped 15 shots at 5v5. Over the course of this rough stretch, the Jackets have had the following number of shots blocked at 5v5:
14 (road loss), 11 (road loss), 4 (road loss), 14 (road loss), 14 (home win), 19 (road loss), 9 (home SO loss), 11 (road win), 22 (road loss)
Are we relying too much on our defense to create offense? That’s harder to do with Adam Boqvist on IR, and half the defense being guys who rarely score (Carlsson, Bayreuther, Peeke). I also wonder if we’re too predictable when we’re in the offensive zone. Opponents know where to set up, and trust that their defense can take care of any pucks that get to the inside.
Elvis on track for a Blue Christmas
For the third time in five road games, Elvis Merzlikins was pulled early. Like in Toronto, he was benched for the third period. It wasn’t really his fault this time, however. Nothing he gave up was egregious. His defense left him out to dry, again. That being said, if he wants to win the Vezina, or to be the franchise goalie he is being paid to be, then he has to steal games like this. He has to bail out his team when they’re not playing well.
Another reason for the benching is to get Joonas Korpisalo some work. He had not played since replacing Elvis in the Nashville game at the end of November. Since the team is off until Monday (at least), this was a great chance for Korpi to shake off the rust. He didn’t allow a goal on 15 shots faced, so that’s a good start. My guess is he will start in Buffalo on Monday, and Elvis will take the home start against the Sabres on Thursday, where he plays better.
Now we finally get to it, the story of how this went horribly wrong. After a strong start, Jake Voracek lost his helmet in a collision, and was penalized for not immediately heading to the bench. On his way back he turned towards the goal to help on the play. Before the whistle could blow, Max Domi tripped an Oiler in front of the net. These are two veterans who have played well this season, and how should know better. Voracek should know he has to get off the ice. Domi should know that it was a delayed penalty, and he couldn’t afford to put them in a worse situation. Especially against an Oilers power play which features two generational talents in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Side note: Voracek’s helmet didn’t just come off on its own. Let’s call it what it is: he got hit in the head. Shouldn’t that be a penalty, too?
Anyway, the penalty kill actually did quite well for the first minute, keeping the puck out of danger. Then, an Edmonton shot deflected off of the rear boards and Jesse Puljujarvi scored off the rebound. In the penalty that remained, the Oilers capitalized again, with Puljujarvi scoring again off a perfectly-placed pass in the crease.
Less than two minutes later, the Oilers got an even strength goal from their fourth line. During their losing streak, the lack of production from the depth forwards had been a sore spot for Edmonton fans. So naturally Derek Ryan and Brendan Perlini each scored tonight.
This first goal was the result of especially atrocious defensive play. Werenski got turned around and made a really lazy, one-handed attempt to knock the puck out of the defensive zone. It was easily intercepted and the puck was sent in. Then, Jake Bean also tried and failed to get the puck out. From there it was just a bull rush to the net.
The second goal was a 5v5 goal, but came less than a minute after the Jackets had killed a Jake Bean penalty. That penalty, in turn, had come less than a minute after he got out of the box for serving another penalty. The second one was a soft call, but it still speaks to a lack of discipline, and it shows how so much time on the PK can gas the skaters and leave them susceptible to giving up scoring chances.
Another boneheaded play by a veteran was late in the second period. Boone Jenner drew a penalty on Duncan Keith. Then, just 16 seconds into the power play, Jenner committed a penalty of his own, killing a golden opportunity to cut into a 3-0 deficit before the second intermission.
Dead cat bounce
Might as well give credit where it’s due for the Jackets avoiding a shutout. The first goal was a good team effort. Cole Sillinger won an offensive zone faceoff, and the Jackets cycled the puck around the zone. Bean’s shot from the right circle was tipped by Sillinger in the crease, and Gus Nyquist was able to tap it in.
With under four minutes left, the fourth line carried the puck into the zone, and Werenski was able to skate inside and shoot. Justin Danforth was waiting on the back door to score the rebound.
I’ve been screaming for days now for the team to play young guys like Yegor Chinakhov and Emil Bemstrom. Two of the primary players I wanted scratched to make room for them were Nyquist and Danforth. Nyquist because he’s been bad, and Danforth because he’s a replacement level player, and each are too old to have a future here. Naturally they had to make me look bad.
Chinakhov, by the way, played 13:21 and recorded just one shot on goal on three shot attempts.
With Saturday’s game in Calgary being postponed, the Jackets get to fly home early to spend the weekend in Columbus. Then they hit the road again for a game in Buffalo on Monday.