Shortly before the puck dropped to begin Saturday’s game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Los Angeles Kings, the Washington Capitals completed a regulation win over the Montreal Canadiens, which officially eliminated the Blue Jackets from the playoff race. Earlier in the day, the Vegas Golden Knights were shut out by the Edmonton Oilers, giving the Kings an opportunity to expand their lead for the third seed in the Pacific Division. They had more to play for tonight, and in the first period it looked like it.
The Jackets had possession early, but after Patrik Laine and Jake Bean collided in the offensive zone, which allowed Blake Lizotte to steal the puck and spring Dustin Brown on a breakaway. Nick Blankenburg was left to defend but couldn’t get back in time.
The Kings expanded their lead with another breakaway, this time from the highly productive “MAD” line, consisting of Trevor Moore, Viktor Arvidsson, and Phillip Danault. The latter two were really smart pick-ups by the Kings last off-season.
For the Jackets’ part, that was characteristically discombobulated defense. Where was Adam Boqvist on this one? Rough night for him, with a 5v5 CF% of 39.13 (third worst on the team), and he got dropped down from the second to third pair.
Through one period, the shot counter was 12-3 in LA’s favor, though the game flow wasn’t quite so lopsided. In all situations, the Jackets actually led in shot attempts, 18-16. The problem is the Kings blocked nine of those attempts.
The second period started well, as the Jackets cut the lead in half. Gus Nyquist battled for the puck and carried it alone, then passed to Carson Meyer, who recovered his own rebound behind the net. Sean Kuraly — returning to the lineup after a weeklong COVID absence — trailed the play and was in position to send home the pass from his fellow AAA Blue Jacket alumnus.
After that goal, however, the second period was all Kings. They produced 2.81 expected goals, but Elvis Merzlikins stepped up big time.
In the third period, the Blue Jackets controlled possession again, but again the Kings’ defense prevented them from creating quality chances, or even sustained attacks in the zone. Of the 25 shot attempts, just eight found their way to Jonathan Quick.
They had a power play with 2:45, but struggled to get the cycle set up. It took a minute before they were able to pull Elvis for an extra skater, but even that didn’t help.
The Jackets had 62 shot attempts. That’s solid! Of those, 26 were blocked and 14 missed the net. Only 22 shots were on goal. That’s right, more shots were blocked by Kings skaters than were saved by Quick.
Aside from the two early breakaway goals (bad positioning on the first one, no chance on the second), Elvis was tremendous again, saving 36 of 38 shots faced. With less than a 24 hour turnaround, will he start another back-to-back or will he finally get a breather?
Some notable line shuffling in the game: after five minutes of getting dominated in possession (1 CF, 8 CA), Emil Bemstrom was dropped from the Cole Sillinger/Jakub Voracek line and replaced by Oliver BJORKSTRAND. That new line then won the attempt battle 6-3.
Boqvist was dropped to the third pair with Jake Bean, while rookie Nick Blankenburg got to play with Vladislav Gavrikov in the third period. The fun-sized Maize-and-Blue blueliner led defensemen with four hits and he also had two blocks.
For the second game, fellow rookie Kent Johnson was a non-factor. He played 10:33 and produced two shot attempts (neither on goal). He’s just not in rhythm with his linemates yet, but there is still time for that to happen. It would be nice to see him get more minutes, but at the same time I can’t justify playing the top two lines (Laine/Roslovic/Nyquist and Voracek/Sillinger/BJORKSTRAND) less. Those lines have proven players, and they’re playing better at the moment.
It’s off down the road to Orange County as the Jackets visit the Anaheim Ducks for an 8:30 EDT start. Can Easter Sunday see a revival of the offense?