For the first time in almost 150 days, the Columbus Blue Jackets returned to the ice for a home-and-home, split-squad doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Jackets chose to load up their home roster, but the preseason is more about individual performances than wins and losses.
Game 1: 1PM at Pittsburgh
Aside from a minor misplay early in the period, goalie Pavel Cajan was the main star of the first first. The 19 year old stood on his head through most of the period, making several stops in close to keep the game scoreless. The Jackets were also able to kill a holding penalty committed by 2022 12th overall pick Denton Mateychuk, and Jake Bean had a golden chance. Despite the penalty, Mateychuk impressed throughout the period, as well as 6th overall pick David Jiricek, and PTO-signee James Neal.
Columbus dominated the second period from the beginning, putting the Penguins on their heals for almost the entire frame. The Neal-Victor Rask-Joona Luoto controlled the first shift and drew a penalty, which was immediately redeemed for one (1) power play goal. Jack Roslovic won the race to the puck, and pulled off a behind-the-net behind-the-back pass to a waiting James Neal.
BLUE JACKETS POWER PLAY GOAL - James Neal from Roslovic - 3:25 2nd Period
Three minutes later, the Penguins would respond, with an admittedly nice passing play culminating in Jon Lizotte sneaking one through Pavel Cajan.
PENGUINS GOAL - Jon Lizotte from Gruden and Devane - 6:27 2nd Period
Despite the setback, the Blue Jackets kept pushing, keeping the puck in the Pittsburgh end almost constantly. Frustrated, the Penguins committed two penalties. Sam Poulin tripped Luca Del Bel Belluz, resulting in a pretty decent but scoreless power play.
After a goalie switch and still hemmed in, Drew O’Connor also earned two in the sin bin, another tripping on Mateychuk. After a great zone entry turned scoring chance by Kirill Marchenko, Nick Blankenburg buried one past Filip Lindberg.
Some great things happening here! Blankenburg fires the puck home on the power play for the 2nd goal of the game! pic.twitter.com/ntO32StcF8— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) September 25, 2022
BLUE JACKETS POWER PLAY GOAL - Nick Blankenburg from Marchenko and Rask - 12:27 2nd Period
The Blue Jackets continued the pressure, with Pittsburgh only getting a couple good looks at Nolan Lalonde before the period’s end. This period, in addition to their scoring plays, Roslovic and the Blankenburg-Jake Bean pair looked impressive throughout the period.
After a dominant second period, things quickly went off the rail for the Jackets. After being hemmed in to start the period, Ben Harpur fought Jamie Devane and lost big time, getting knocked out, taking a while to get to his feet, and even longer to head back to the dressing room. Obviously shook from the incident, the Jackets would be in their own zone for the vast majority of the period.
Goaltender Nolan Lalonde would be a bright spot, making several dazzling saves and keeping the lead alive. Most notably, he shut down Jason Zucker on a 2-on-0. Between him and Pavel Cajun, the Columbus goalies were fantastic today.
As the game started to even out, the Penguins made the decision to get their guys some practice with the extra attacker, pulling Lindberg with 3:15 to go. It would pay off, as Corey Andonovski would tie it with under a minute to play.
PENGUINS 6-ON-5 GOAL - Corey Andonovsi from Poulin and Puustinen - 19:05.9 3rd Period
Despite a good chance for Marchenko, we’d get overtime.
The Jackets had a decent rush, but the Penguins immediately responded. First, Rickard Rakell would walk in, necessitating a blocker save by Lalone. Seconds later, Marcus Pettersson would send one over the sprawling goalie and the crease, but only hit the corner boards. And as Jason Zucker picked up the lose puck, he circled around the zone and drove the net for the game winner.
PENGUINS OVERTIME GOAL - Jason Zucker from Pettersson and Rakell - 1:58 Overtime
Both Pavel Cajan and Nolan Lalonde stood on their heads, earning a combined 31 saves between them. Nick Blankenburg and Jack Roslovic made strong cases for a promotion in the pecking order, while Mateychuk, and Neal also looked impressive.
Game 2: 7PM in Columbus
Before getting to the game itself, we must complain about the stream for this. Maybe it’s a First World Problem, but if the team promised a stream than it’s reasonable to expect it to work, and to look and sound professional. Instead, for the first 43 minutes of game time all we got was a single camera angle, no audio, and no replays. Only in the third period did we finally get the radio audio, the full video board feed, and a score bug. You’ve had all summer to prep for this; how could it go wrong? It’s especially bad when compared to Pittsburgh’s feed looking and sounding great for the matinee game, and for the excitement entering this preseason being a franchise high.
As for the game, the Jackets led with their big guns to start. Elvis Merzlikins was in net, the late season first pair of Zach Werenski and Andrew Peeke were reunited, and the starting first line featured the much-anticipated Patrik Laine/Johnny Gaudreau pairing. With Cole Sillinger and Boone Jenner both out, and Jack Roslovic having played in the early game, Kent Johnson got to play center between $18.45M of wing talent.
It was the second goal who drew first blood, however. Justin Danforth centered Gus Nyquist and Jake Voracek. After an offensive zone faceoff win by Danforth, Voracek passed to Jake Christiansen at the point, whose shot was deflected by Danforth.
she is beauty— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) September 25, 2022
she is grace
she is this goal right here pic.twitter.com/fw4SEgk1mN
Also on ice for that was Erik Gudbranson. He had two shots on goal in the first period himself, and was mostly invisible in a good way for the evening, aside from one dreadful pass that was intercepted for a breakaway.
Eight minutes into the middle frame, the top line did what they were supposed to do. Just look at how much Gaudreau should help us with clean zone entries. Props to Peeke for an excellent pass across the royal road to set up Laine’s wide-open shot.
One order of Patty Bomb coming up! Peeke hits Laine with the cross ice pass for the goal to make it 2-0! pic.twitter.com/8q4mNySY9b— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) September 26, 2022
One of the topics of conversation since the Gaudreau signing was what the top power play unit would like. Would Gaudreau take Voracek’s spot? Well, it turns out Jake may have a second home on PP1. Werenski and Laine returned to their spots from last year: on the point and the left circle, respectively. Gaudreau was on the right circle. Danforth played the bumper role, while Voracek was positioned in front of the net. From that spot he tapped in a rebound.
Vora-CHECK OUT THIS GOAL pic.twitter.com/i3gYRuS1gQ— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) September 26, 2022
The second unit then extended the lead to 4-0 with Voracek going back to his role as assist man, this time for Gus Nyquist. Credit as well to rookie Samuel Knazko for a nice set-up.
You mean to tell me a GOOSE scored this goal?? pic.twitter.com/kw5RXlanRo— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) September 26, 2022
Jet Greaves replaced Elvis after the second intermission. Elvis wasn’t challenged much by weak Penguins roster, but saved all 15 shots faced. Greaves looked strong early and ended up saving 13 of 14 in his 20 minutes of action.
Despite Pittsburgh ruining the shutout, the Jackets added one more insurance goal later in the period. It was another PPG (three power play goals through two games? In this economy??) from the top unit, and another Danforth goal.
Another snipe from Danforth pic.twitter.com/cdOouYgCbz— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) September 26, 2022
Gotta love that puck movement. What a great pass from Gaudreau to set up Danforth’s one-timer in the slot. Boqvist replaced Werenski for that shift, and did his job.
Werenski left the game in the third period after a net-front collision. Let’s hope his removal was just precautionary.
Things you love to see: Voracek, Gaudreau, and Danforth all had three points.
All four goaltenders today looked pretty good, including the youngsters Cajan and Lalonde in game one.
In games like this, you want to see bubble players make their case to make the team. Danforth is certainly one of those guys. His ability to play up or down the lineup, and at wing or center, should make him a useful piece to keep on the 23 man roster. Nick Blankenburg is another bubble player and his goal gives him an inside track for the sixth or seventh defenseman spot.
Among other defensemen in the afternoon, Jake Bean and David Jiricek were less impressive. Bean was invisible despite playing 28 minutes, while Jiricek got burned on the tying and game-winning goals from Pittsburgh.
The 29/91/13 line had a CF% of 66.67 in 13:10 minutes of 5v5. Johnson also won 50% of his faceoffs (5-5). I’m still not betting money on Johnson being the 1C on October 12 but... let’s keep an eye on this throughout preseason.
The Jackets host the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night at Nationwide Arena, followed by a trip to St. Louis on Thursday. Once again, I’d expect more regulars to appear in the home game, with AHL/junior/PTO guys making the road trip.