On March 19, Max Domi was still a Columbus Blue Jacket and Claude Giroux was still a Philadelphia Flyer. Elvis Merzlikins left the game against the St. Louis Blues with a back spasm, and was replaced by Joonas Korpisalo. The Jackets held on for a win, and had lost seven in a row since then. Tonight that ended with a 4-2 win in Philadelphia
Let’s start with the obvious star of the game: Elvis Merzlikins was starting for the 16th time in the last 19 games. Before the game, I did not want this to happen. The back leg of a back-to-back, against a bad team, is the perfect time to give him a breather and start J.F. Berube. I get that Elvis wants to start every game, but the coaches need to step in and save him from himself if there’s any risk of burnout or injury.
Fortunately, the increased workload has seen Elvis get better with each game. This should boost his confidence, thus salvaging a disappointing season and send him into the off-season on a positive note. The Jackets would likely not have won tonight without Elvis, as they allowed 49 shots. He saved 47 of them. The two goals allowed were on 3.86 expected goals against.
The game got off to a good start with the fourth line striking first. Maybe playing less than four minutes each last night meant that Brendan Gaunce and Carson Meyer were fresh? Anyway, good work to create multiple high danger shots on a single play:
The Jackets struck again later in the period on a play that started with a Robinson steal in the defensive zone. He sprung Zach Werenski on a breakaway, and Z made the perfect feed to Carson Meyer on the 2-on-1 for the Powell native’s first NHL goal, to go with his first NHL point from earlier. Great pass, great goal:
A moment Carson will never forget pic.twitter.com/G7EZto36QL— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) April 5, 2022
Meyer wasn’t the only player to get his first career goal tonight. Noah Cates got the Flyers on the board late in the first period. It was shortly after a Vladislav Gavrikov penalty had ended. The Jackets had three defensemen on the ice, and somehow they all ended up in one part of the zone. Not ideal! Oh, and the forwards were Jack Roslovic and Patrik Laine, not exactly defensive stalwarts themselves.
With continued pressure through the second period, defenseman Ronnie Attard — playing just his third NHL game — recorded his first NHL point by firing a long range bomb which was tipped in by James van Riemsdyk. It looked close to goaltender interference, but JVR was just outside the crease so it probably wasn’t worth the challenge. Veteran play to shield Elvis like he did.
Things went a little bit better in third in terms of possession and shot creation for the Jackets. Shortly after their power play expired (their first of the game, after four for the Flyers), the Kuraly line stepped up. Jake Bean fired a shot towards the net, and Justin Danforth crashed in and somehow tipped the puck in past Carter Hart and off the goalpost.
NHL Video Highlight - Justin Danforth scores against the Philadelphia Flyers to make it 3-2. pic.twitter.com/wr8DlSwEMt— Blue Jackets Game Bot (@CBJGameBot) April 6, 2022
We think of Danforth and Sean Kuraly as bottom six players, but their line (with BJORKSTRAND) was actually the most used at 5v5 in this game. For good reason: they had a 62.96 CF%.
Kuraly added an empty netter at the end to seal the victory and snap the losing streak. Cole Sillinger had the first assist, and I love seeing the kid kept high leverage minutes like that, playing defense to protect the lead. He and Meyer are two examples of young, green players being put into position to succeed, and seizing the opportunity.
Patrik Laine’s scoring drought continues, but not for lack of trying. He led the team with six shots on goal, and was second behind Kuraly in individual expected goals. His line had a 60.00 CF%. He’s due for another scoring streak soon.
These teams come back for a rematch in Columbus on Thursday. I’ll be there and will probably cry when Atkinson gets his tribute video. Can’t wait!