The Columbus Blue Jackets, losers of five of their last seven games, went on the road on Thursday night to take on the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that was struggling even more lately, having lost nine straight games for the second time this season.
The major storyline heading into the game, other than the losses suffered by both teams, was the first matchup of the Blue Jackets and former assistant captain Cam Atkinson. Atkinson was, in a surprise move, traded to Philadelphia for Jakub Voracek this past summer (and this marked Voracek’s return to Philadelphia for the first time since the deal). Cam, pregame, insisted their were no hard feelings about the deal.
Atkinson on whether the trade created a rift:— Brian Hedger (@BrianHedger) January 20, 2022
"When I got traded, it was Declan’s 3rd birthday, too, so it was a whirlwind of events, even bringing Stinger over to the house (laughs). So, it was just a crazy day, but, no, there’s no bad blood at all. Business is business."#CBJ pic.twitter.com/RrqA4X5LN4
In team news, the Blue Jacket welcomed Voracek back from the COVID protocols but added Vladislav Gavrikov and Adam Boqvist. As a result, Jake Christianson and Gavin Bayreuther went into the lineup, while Elvis Merzlikins got the start in goal.
Here’s what happened.
The Flyers earned the first power play just 28 seconds into the game as Texier was boxed for tripping, but the Blue Jackets were able to kill the penalty. The teams combined for no score through the first ten minutes of the game, though Columbus managed 5 shots to Philadelphia’s two. The Flyers managed the game’s first real high danger chance with nine minutes remaining in the period, but the shot hit Elvis Merzlikins in the face mask and bounced out play. Cam Atkinson led a two on one just a minute later for his first chance of the game against his former club, but fired it wide of the net. Seconds later, Emil Bemstrom rang a shot off the post and, in an ensuing scrum, Max Domi and Justin Braun scuffled and each were boxed for roughing (Domi earned a double minor). The Blue Jackets killed the penalty as the team continued to trade low-danger chances through the end of the first period - the teams entered first intermission tied at zero on the scoreboard, though the Jackets led on the shot counter 11-9.
Of all the periods of hockey, that was certainly one of them.
The second period opened with the Blue Jackets on the front foot and, just two minutes into the period, it appeared that Zach Werenski rewarded the early pressure with the opening goal. The Flyers challenged the play for goaltender interference and, upon review, the goal was overturned as Alexandre Texier was deemed to have interfered with Carter Hart. The team was rewarded for maintaining their pressure, however, as they earned their first power play 3:43 into the period as Justin Braun was boxed for interference. The Flyers were able to kill the penalty, allowing just two shots.
The Blue Jackets continued their dominance of the second period through the middle part of the period, earning a second power play with 10:32 remaining and Zack Macewen was boxed for tripping Jakub Voracek - mean to do in his return to Philadelphia, really. The Blue Jackets were finally able to open the scoring with 8:07 remaining as Sean Kuraly found Oliver Bjorkstrand, who deked Carter Hart and roofed it backhand for a 1-0 lead.
Columbus goal (1-0): Bjorkstrand from Jenner and Kuraly, 11:53
Philadelphia began to ramp up the pressure after the Columbus goal, but Elvis stood tall in the net with several pad saves to keep Columbus in the lead. With 5:50 remaining, Elvis made his best save of the night, a sliding glove save on Scott Laughton’s effort following a turnover in the slot. Two minutes later, Elvis made a sprawling effort on a couple Flyers chances in tight and the Blue Jackets’ defense began to waver for the first time on the night.
With 1:33 to go, Gavin Bayreuther crushed Oskar Lindblom on the boards on a hit up high, and Scott Laughton came to Lindblom’s defense. Laughton was boxed for two minutes for roughing, while Bayreuther was given four for roughing (the double minor a result of a cross check high while Lindblom was down on the ice). The Blue Jackets managed to escape to intermission with a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard and a 25-24 advantage in shots on net.
Anyway, while Twitter was down ... Bjorkstrand scored, Elvis saved the Jackets' bacon during their usual "pinned in their own end stretch," Bayreuther dropped the gloves, there were horses and a man on fire and Brick killed a guy with a trident.#CBJ up 1-0 after two.— Brian Hedger (@BrianHedger) January 21, 2022
Elvis made two stellar saves early in the period, one on Cam Atkinson and one on Claude Giroux, as the Blue Jackets finished killing the Bayreuther penalty (served by Yegor Chinakhov). At the 2:44 mark, Patrik Laine was boxed for slashing Joel Farabbe and giving the Flyers their fourth power play chance of the night.
With 14:10 remaining, Patrik Laine was left wide open in the slot and Boone Jenner found him following a puck battle below the line. Laine wasted no time burying his sixth of the season.
Columbus goal (2-0): Laine from Jenner and Kukan, 5:50
The Blue Jackets, seconds later, went back to the power play but the Flyers were able to keep them off the scoresheet for a third time.
With 7:36 remaining, the Flyers finally got on the scoresheet. Gerry Mayhew let a shot go from the point through a crowd that beat Merzlikins high for his first goal of the season.
Philadelphia goal (1-2): Mayhew from Ristolainen and Laughton, 12:40
The Flyers continued to pressure the Blue Jackets as the minutes ticked down, finally pulling Carter Hart with 2:07 to go. A long shift by the Jackets late saw Oliver Bjorkstrand just miss an empty net goal wide. Philadelphia took timeout with 36 seconds to go, allowing both teams a rest. Columbus was able to see this one out, though, denying Philadelphia an equalizer.
Columbus Blue Jackets 2 Philadelphia Flyers 1
Coming into the game, Patrik Laine had just three shots in his last three games. Against the Flyers Laine continued to look tentative early, even passing the puck on the first power play and turning down perfectly fine shooting lanes. He appears to be fighting himself right now, turning down good opportunities in search of the perfect one, and that is not good enough for a team struggling to score. In the third period, you saw the type of player Laine can be - he made a smart play to keep the puck in the zone, cycled and found the open ice, and buried a shot after Boone Jenner worked the puck loose. Laine just need to keep the skates moving and keep working and his goals will come.
Man, Alexandre Texier had a tough night early - sent to the penalty box on his first shift, ran into Carter Hart to deny Werenski the opening goal. Rough go of things for the youngster.
Three goals and four points in his last five games for Oliver Bjorkstrand, who is clearly the best forward on a night to night basis on this roster and may now be the Most Underrated Player in the League (TM).
Boone Jenner 2 assists for Blue Jackets. He now has 130 in his career, tying him for 10th all-time in Columbus history with R.J. Umberger, former Flyer and favorite player of the late, great Jay Greenberg— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) January 21, 2022
Elvis Merzlikins earned his 14th win of the season, moving his record to 14-9-1 on the year.
Ten straight losses now by the Flyers.
The Blue Jackets return home for a matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night at Nationwide Arena. Faceoff is scheduled for 7:00 PM EDT.