Look, we know that the Blue Jackets are not a great team, or even a good team. Carolina, meanwhile, has earned their reputation as one of the top Cup contenders this season. The Blue Jackets have just enough talent that they can play an imperfect game and still beat a bad team (like Buffalo or Montreal). They’re also good enough that they can beat a top team if they play a perfect game, like they did in that building in January, beating the Canes 6-0. The Jackets have little chance of winning if they are not playing their best game, and if a team like the Canes is rested and out for revenge.
The Hurricanes were at home, and had last played on Monday. The Jackets were coming off of a game in Florida 24 hours earlier, and one which involved some heavy minutes. In addition, the Jackets were still without their best player (Zach Werenski) and were relying on fourth string goalie J-F Berube to play out of his mind on consecutive nights.
It’s a cliche after a bad loss to say “burn the tapes” but I have resisted that this season, because it’s a developmental year and there are lessons to be learned from those losses, whether it’s issues of scheme or evidence of where players could show better effort. Tonight was finally a “burn the tapes” game because of all of these extenuating circumstances. I don’t think it was a lack of effort, I just don’t think there was much left in the tank.
Carolina’s defense and penalty kill
It would be easy to look at the shot totals and complain about the lack of production from the Blue Jackets. Given how they’ve been scoring this month, I think that’s unfair. Instead, give credit to the Canes for the absolute clinic they put on. I noticed against Toronto that the Jackets had a lot of room to move through the neutral zone and get set up in the offensive zone. Tonight, there was never any room to breath. Wherever a Jacket went, or wherever the puck was, there was a black jersey.
The penalty kill was vicious. Getting into the zone was a battle, and once in the zone, setting up in a cycle was also a struggle. It’s not like Carolina was content to let the Jackets pass around the outside; even the players on the outside were getting challenged. Through eight minutes of power play time, the Jackets were able to generate just TWO shot attempts, with only one of those unblocked and none on net. That generated just 0.09 expected goals, and that came only on a close range BJORKSTRAND shot that went wide on the last power play, with under five minutes left in the game.
Through two periods, the shots on goal differential was -29, which was the largest differential through two periods in the NHL this season.
One issue I have to raise is that I felt Carolina got away with a lot of holding and grabbing. The officials could have called a lot more if they went by the book, but they called it fairly all night. The Jackets penalties were more obvious.
Berube’s hot streak came to an end, but he still gave a tremendous effort. He faced 50 shots and saved 46 of them. Can’t ask for much more than that from your goaltender. Of the four goals, the second and fourth were great snipes through traffic. The first and third involved weird bounces. The first saw Berube stop a breakaway, then stop the first rebound while falling over. A subsequent shot bounced off a stick while he was still on the ground. The third goal saw Nino Niederreiter shoot at Berube from the corner of the rink, and it bounced off his skate into the goal.
I had concerns about Berube starting on back-to-back nights, especially with Elvis Merzlikins being activated off IR earlier in the day. I’m glad I was wrong, because Berube did enough to keep the team in the game, at least through the first two periods. This could have been a LOT uglier.
Scary moment in the first period as Gavrikov hit the ice to block a Brett Pesce pass, which hit the front of his helmet. He stayed on the ice, with blood pouring from the side of his head. A pink spot remained on the ice through the duration of the period. Remarkably, he was back on the ice early in the second period, with a length cut around his left eye which had been stitched up. He ended up playing 16:14, the second least among Columbus defensemen.
Unfortunately, Patrik Laine’s point streak came to an end tonight. He had just three shot attempts tonight (one on goal). This isn’t to single him out, but rather it was a rough night for all forwards and even he was not immune.
Let’s take one last opportunity to marvel at the final numbers from his streak: 11 straight games with a point. 21 points. 13 goals. 8 multipoint games, 5 multigoal games, 1 hat trick.
Now it’s back home for the start of a FIVE game homestand. Saturday is an off day, then the Pittsburgh Penguins come to Nationwide on Sunday for a 6 p.m. start. If we’re going to start a new winning streak, I can’t think of a more satisfying opponent to do it against.