It wasn’t always pretty, but the Columbus Blue Jackets were able to pull off a much-needed regulation win over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night. Newest Blue Jackets Jack Roslovic and Patrik Laine each scored their first goal in a Columbus sweater, while Cam Atkinson’s game winner was his 200th.
From the start of the game, the energy level from the Jackets was much higher than it was on Tuesday. How could it get any lower, right? It’s funny, for as much as we debate whether they should be playing a more offensively or defensively oriented style, the fact is that when they just play hard and physical, they end up getting more pressure in both zones and are able to score as much as they can prevent goals.
On the flip side, they had stretches in each period where the ice tilted back in the direction of Dallas, and it meant the Jackets needed every insurance goal they tacked on.
I’ll save the Jackets goals towards the end to cheer you up, but first I want to start by saying a quick word about what is sure to be a hot topic of discussion here between now and the next game:
It’s been a point of frustration all season but it was especially glaring tonight. Here are the top five players by all-situations CF%, and their total time on ice:
Dean Kukan, 66.67%, 13:58 (least used defenseman)
Cam Atkinson, 59.38%, 18:40 (most used forward. Yay, Cam!)
Zach Werenski, 56.10%, 22:12 (second most used defenseman)
Jack Roslovic, 52.00%, 14:49 (fifth least used forward)
Oliver BJORKSTRAND, 50.00%, 13:30 (fourth least used forward. Wait, what?)
Seriously: what?? The Maestro is the team’s leading scorer, and he’s getting third line minutes? It should also be noted that the top five include three of the four goal scorers, and Roslovic and BJORKSTRAND were the two Jackets with multiple points tonight.
Let’s look at the bottom five players by CF%:
David Savard, 18.75%, 18:34 (third most used defenseman)
Vladislav Gavrikov, 20.00%, 17:52 (fifth most used defenseman)
Boone Jenner, 23.53%, 18:33 (second most used forward)
Nick Foligno, 24.14%, 16:19 (sixth most used forward)
Mikko Koivu, 25.81%, 15:04 (seventh most used forward)
None of the five were on ice for a Jackets goal and all allowed at least one. They were the only line and pair not on ice for a Columbus goal. Savard, Gavrikov, and Jenner were on ice for two goals against each. (Riley Nash was also on ice for two goals against and was the sixth worst CF%. But he was the third least used forward) Those three have the coaches’ trust to play heavy defensive minutes, but the evidence so far this year does not suggest that they’ve earned the trust.
Now sure, CF% isn’t a perfect or all-encompassing metric. Not many will look good when the team as a whole was just 37.86% for the game in all situations. But even by that average, these five look bad. That 18.75% for Savard is abysmal.
Even if these guys do prevent goals in key shifts — Foligno had an excellent PK shift, and Koivu and Nash were part of a 4v6 kill in the final minute that preserved the lead — that’s only one way to stop the other team. It’s also one that is not sustainable over long stretches. The other way is by possessing the puck yourself, and creating scoring chances which bury the other team in their own zone, and force them to change their approach.
BJORKSTRAND has been the best all-around forward all season. He should never have less than top 6 minutes. Give him high energy linemates and let him cook. Roslovic has shown his speed and hustle in every game since he arrived. I don’t know if he’s a long term answer as the 2C, but he’s certainly at least the second best center currently on the roster.
Poor Eric Robinson is always in the right place at the right time, even if he doesn’t have the hands to match. What more does he have to do to get a chance in the top 6? Sure, there’s no guarantee that with more minutes his underlying stats will stay the same. They could suffer with more fatigue, or against tougher competition. But it’s worth a shot, since we know that the heavy minutes given to a Jenner or Foligno are not going well. Why not help them out by keeping them fresher by spacing out their shifts, and deploying them against weaker competition?
Okay, enough bitching. Let’s get to the good stuff. Early in the game, it was all Columbus, with each forward line dominating possession. Werenski made a nice outlet pass to Mikhail Grigorenko. Grigs made a handoff to BJORKSTRAND in the offensive zone, and Ollie skated the puck around the Dallas net. He didn’t have a great angle, but he fired away anyway and somehow the puck found space between Anton Khudobin and the near post. Shooters shoot, and it’s sometimes better to be lucky than good.
The ice tilted towards the Stars after this, but the Jackets were able to add another score before the end of the period. Once again the play started with Werenski, who recovered his own rebound and skated back out from behind the net. He made a nice pass to Robinson, who quickly tapped it to Roslovic in the slot, and the local kid did the rest. Wheel, snipe, celly.
Hey, remember how I said that shooters shoot and it’s better to be lucky than good? Yeah, so here’s what Patrik Laine did to expand the Jackets lead back to two in the second period:
Still not sure how that went in. Whatever.
Things went downhill from there, as a Columbus power play featured too much passing and not enough skating or shooting. It seemed like the players were only trying to set up Laine rather than make a play themselves. Meanwhile, Blake Comeau was without a stick but shadowed Laine the whole time so he didn’t get a clean look. It was two solid minutes of possession for that unit, but Laine got stranded on ice for a two and a half minute shift. Dallas got a scoring chances from Alexander Radulov as he came out of the box, then on the other end Laine got his pocket picked by Jason Dickinson, who scored off an assist from Radulov. In total, over the final 2:46 of the period after the expiration of the power play, Dallas had nine shot attempts and Columbus had none.
You knew that the 3-2 Jackets lead wouldn’t last for the final 20 minutes, so it was good that they got an insurance goal. Jack Roslovic won an offensive zone faceoff, with BJORKSTRAND retrieving the puck behind and skating it around the right circle. He fired the puck at the crease, where a kneeling Atkinson stuffed it between Khudobin’s legs.
It’s been a rough season for #13 but he had his best game tonight and it’s good to see him rewarded for it. I thought his game could get going by being paired with one of the new arrivals, I just got wrong which former Jet that would be. Roslovic and Atkinson were a good pairing tonight and I hope they stick together for a bit longer to build chemistry.
Dallas got one back because of course they did, but the Jackets did just enough at the end to hold on.
The Jackets now get a rare two day break. Hopefully they use that time to hold some much-needed practice. Then they host the Carolina Hurricanes in a back-to-back on Sunday afternoon and Monday night. After those games, they will have faced each of their seven division opponents twice. So far, the Jackets are 2-1-3 in their series (Took 3 out of 4 from Detroit and Tampa, were swept by Nashville, and split with Florida, Chicago, and Dallas).