It has been a rough start to the season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, losing each of their first three games by three goals. Tonight was their first game of the season against a team that didn’t make the playoffs last season. In addition, these Vancouver Canucks also started 0-3-0 on a long road trip to start the season, and had blown a multi-goal lead in each one. One team was going to leave the arena with reason for hope, and one would be facing more pressure to crawl out of a deepening hole.
Luckily for us, it was the Blue Jackets who won the day, but they didn’t make it easy.
The opening frame served to confirm our worst fears about this team’s flaws. The Jackets looked like they either had no plan whatsoever, or had a plan too complicated so they were overthinking every play. This led to them playing slow, and struggling to maintain possession.
The Jackets got the first power play opportunity, after Nick Blankenburg (making his season debut) delivered a hard hit on former Ohio State Buckeye Dakota Joshua. Curtis Lazar took exception, Mathieu Oliver joined in, and Lazar went off for roughing.
The power play struggled to connect on passes, but even worse the second unit gave up a costly turnover. Despite a 3-on-2 advantage in the corner, they lost a puck battle and the Canucks were off to the races with Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat on a 2-on-1 against Jake Voracek. Why is Voracek stuck defending that? Kent Johnson and Jake Bean were chasing but unable to catch up. Pettersson’s pass and Horvat’s shot made it look easy.
After this, Andrew Peeke took a puck to the head and required stitches, which kept him out for the remainder of the first and all of the second.
Vancouver capitalized, as Blankenburg ended up with Zach Werenski, but they were not on the same page to start. On this play, Blankenburg’s attempt to clear the puck was intercepted, and he and Werenski were caught out of position. After the puck went around the net, Blankenburg chased the puck over to the left circle even though Werenski and Cole Sillinger were already there. This left the right side of the ice wide open where Pettersson was waiting to tap in the rebound.
The Jackets just could not seem to get settled on offense. The one time they had a longer shift, it was ended by Olivier getting into a fight with Luke Schenn. I get that he wants to respond to a rough hit (Schenn could have been called for boarding), but that fight ended what could have led to a scoring opportunity. What a waste. Jenner credited the fight with waking the team up but I don’t think it should have come to that.
The possession stats were fairly even, but after 20 minutes it felt like the Jackets were being dominated, and there were some boos from the Fifth Line. If Vancouver were a better team themselves, the score could have been much worse.
A different Jackets team came out for the second period. With Peeke out, the five remaining were cycled with Werenski, Blankenburg, and Gavrikov getting the bulk of ice time. We also saw Voracek and Justin Danforth switch lines, which seemed to help everyone.
Just as the Jackets were starting to get some momentum, Boone Jenner took an unnecessary penalty, but the kill was successful (with some shorthanded looks) and the momentum grew from there.
The Sillinger line, now featuring Yegor Chinakhov and Danforth, had a great shift that featured lots of cycling and lots of hitting. Chinakhov entered the slot with the puck and fired towards the crease. It was on its way wide of the net, but Gavrikov was there to redirect it across the crease, and Danforth tipped it in.
that hand-eye coordination tho pic.twitter.com/VDIh1kCyH6— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) October 19, 2022
The shot attempts were close in the period (17-15 Columbus), but the unblocked shot attempts were more lopsided (16-8). That’s 7 blocks by the Jackets. They managed longer offensive shifts, and didn’t let the Canucks settle in.
Early in the third, Blanks got beat and took a bad penalty, but the kill stepped up again. Peeke was back in the game and contributing, next to Gavrikov. Jack Roslovic then did well to take an interference penalty, negating the power play and leading to 1:16 of 4v4. Roslovic and Danforth along with Peeke and Gavrikov had a great shift, where they spent most of that time on the attack.
Shortly after the power play expired, the top PP unit was able to get on the board anyway. Technically an even strength goal, but hopefully a confidence booster. Johnny Gaudreau set the play up, for a well-earned secondary assist.
enjoy that pizza folks— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) October 19, 2022
Love, Zach Werenski pic.twitter.com/WSt9jAA7Pu
The game was tied! I wondered if the Canucks would start playing tight because they had blown another lead, but they responded quickly:
THAT'S HOW YOU ANSWER BACK! pic.twitter.com/YnsKhBenf3— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) October 19, 2022
Hard to fault the Jackets there. They were well-positioned to defend but the puck took weird bounces.
After that, well...you know that part of The Avengers were Tony Stark says “we have a Hulk”?
We have a Gaudreau.
This Gaudreau goal to once again tie the game at 3’s was ridiculous pic.twitter.com/KxMjgORBri— Alison (@AlisonL) October 19, 2022
I’m certainly not going to complain if he ever feels like he can just take the puck and make something happen by himself.
That tying goal held, and we could exhale as the Jackets had at least earned a point. Could they get another?
Oh buddy yes they could. The Jackets dominated possession in overtime, and did so using a limited lineup. Jenner was the designated faceoff guy but other than that the forward pairs were Gaudreau/Nyquist and Chinakhov/Voracek. Werenski was mostly with the first unit. Blankenburg got the first shift with the second unit, and Gavrikov the next one.
It was on that shift that Voracek won a puck battle in the defensive end, which sprung Chinakhov on a breakaway. He then made a veteran move to sell shot before making a no look saucer pass to Gavy for the one-timer. Game over, call made, let’s go home.
WHO YA GONNA CALL?— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) October 19, 2022
VLADISLAV GAVRIKOV pic.twitter.com/43iGtkbr5n
Erik Gudbranson has been a punching bag of mine for the last week, so I have to give credit where it’s due: he was good tonight. Not great, but far from a liability. Also important: he played the fourth most minutes among defensemen. He was finally not asked to do too much, and he delivered.
Jake Bean, on the other hand, continues to struggle. He was -1 and had no shots, no hits, and no blocks. He deserves to sit out the next game, with Adam Boqvist returning to the lineup. I don’t know which RHD should play on his off hand, but for now Blankenburg probably deserves another game next to Werenski.
Blankenburg is a guy that stands out every time he is on the ice. For such a small player (particularly for a defenseman), he makes his presence felt. He had four shots on goal, five hits, and a block. The whole team was more physical tonight, and he felt like a spark for that.
Credit to the third line of Robinson/Kuraly/Olivier as well. They dominated possession when they were on the ice, doubling up their opponents in shot attempts.
32 save effort for Elvis Merzlikins, but more important he LOOKED great. He had pads featuring the Ohio flag, and was rocking a chrome version of his usual helmet.
The rest of the week gets tougher as the Jackets play three more games in the next five days, starting with the Nashville Predators at Nationwide on Thursday night.