On Sunday night, most of the country was watching the NBA All Star Game, or the latest episode of HBO’s The Last of Us. Me? I’m such a sicko I was eagerly tuning in to watch two of the worst teams in the NHL play each other in a college arena.
The Arizona arena situation is embarrassing for the franchise and the league, yes. But Mullett Arena itself looks pretty cool for what it is. Every arena in the league at this point is so cookie-cutter that it’s refreshing to see something really different. The camera angle took some getting used to, however. It was much closer to the ice, and from a higher angle too.
Jeff Rimer kept talking in the first period about how fast the game pace seemed to him, since his press box was much closer to the ice than in NHL arenas. On TV, however, it seemed very slow to me. That’s often the case with two bad teams playing.
The Coyotes drew first blood, when a Troy Stecher shot went just off target, but Travis Boyd was able to sneak behind Nick Blankenburg and get his stick on the puck to deflect it behind Elvis Merzlikins. Gotta defend that back post better, boys!
FIRST THINGS FIRST pic.twitter.com/wG3iqOi0zm— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) February 20, 2023
Just a couple of minutes later, Jack Roslovic made a good effort to get into the offensive zone, but had no help and was swarmed by Coyotes, who stripped him of the puck in the open ice. Nick Schmaltz got the puck up ice and passed to Clayton Keller, whose shot bounced off the back wall behind the goal right back to Schmaltz, who sniped it past Elvis.
OH MY SCHMALTZ pic.twitter.com/yDFy68z6xC— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) February 20, 2023
Erik Gudbranson challenged Josh Brown to a fight off the opening faceoff to start the second period. Both threw haymakers but neither buckled. It went on surprisingly long after Gudbranson lost his helmet. It didn’t light an immediate fire under the Blue Jackets, but they did draw a couple of penalties in the first ten minutes.
Nick Bjugstad tripped Sean Kuraly for the first Jackets PP. Kent Johnson was in the Gaudreau spot on the first unit. Despite a few Arizona clears, the first unit stayed on for the first 92 seconds. Even when they had to regroup, they were pretty successful at entering the zone. Four shots on the power play.
Seven minutes later, Johnson managed to draw a tripping penalty in his defensive zone. Despite that golden opportunity, they generated zero shots on that power play.
The Jackets finally got on the board when a Blankenburg shot from the circle was deflected by Boone Jenner. He expands on his team lead in goals, now with 17.
Boone gets us on the board pic.twitter.com/4UofsJeq9g— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) February 20, 2023
After a sleepy first, the Jackets dominated shots in this one, 12-4.
An early push by the Coyotes was held off by Elvis and the defense, before the period settled into a back-and-forth affair, without too many great chances.
With 6:30 remaining, Gudbranson was cross-checked in front of the goal, and this time the Blue Jackets’ power play capitalized. It looked like Adam Boqvist had a good shot lane, but passed to Patrik Laine instead. He somehow found a tight window through traffic and between Connor Ingram and the near post.
PATTY GOAL pic.twitter.com/djr3i6D40u— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) February 20, 2023
That was the second power play goal in the last three games for Laine. Also the fourth straight game with a point for Boqvist. You can see that the offensive zone confidence for both players is growing.
As the clocked ticked down, I think both fanbases were dreading a three point game. Both Emil Bemstrom and Eric Robinson had breakaway chances in the final minute, but were denied by Ingram.
The best chance came from the first unit of Laine, Kirill Marchenko, and Blankenburg. The other trios were mostly stuck in the defensive zone. The winning goal came off of a beautiful pass by rookie Mattias Maccelli to Barrett Hayton. You don’t expect Jenner and Kuraly to be there for a defensive breakdown, but Gudbranson flailing in front of the crease sounds about right. He should have had help from Kuraly, but he got picked at the top of the zone and was out of position. None of those three should play in OT but the roster is so depleted this is what you’re stuck with.
PURE ART FROM MACCELLI AND HAYTON pic.twitter.com/11zMBU09wh— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) February 20, 2023
You know how I feel about tanking, but if we’re not going to win, I don’t want a loser point. Play hard and lose in regulation, or get the win. Luckily Chicago beat Toronto (lolwut) so we are now tied with them in points (they have games in hand). Anaheim is a point behind in last place, with a game in hand on us.
Overall a strong night for the Andrew Peeke/Nick Blankenburg pairing, but they were on ice for the first two Arizona goals.
Elvis was...fine. Wasn’t tested too much in this one (faced just 25 shots) and the goals allowed were all on plays where the goal came from the opposite side of the goal from the assist. The .880 save percentage looks bad, but he was at .913 at the end of regulation. Getting consistent “average” performances from him is important progress.
Laine led the team with 11 shot attempts and six shots on goal. Marchenko, Sillinger, and Bemstrom all had four shots on goal. Just keep that up, kids, and eventually the goals will come.
Bemstrom was moved up to the Johnson/Sillinger line and in 6:06 of 5v5, they produced 7 shot attempts for, and just one allowed. This line should stay together as long as Gaudreau is out.
Fun with Deployment: Foudy was really good tonight and played just 9:16. The Kuraly line was not as good, but were still the most used line at 5v5.
The Jackets get some time to travel and practice before hosting the Minnesota Wild at home on Thursday night.