Preseason Game #2 Recap: Defense Optional as Pens top Jackets 4-1

Best way to prep a goalie? Toss him in the deep end

Alright! I get to do my first recap. I am doing this after watching the Pens feed. I’m playing Contra with only 3 lives. Hardcore.

The Columbus Blue Jackets went on the road to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first of a home and home preseason spectacular. The starting lines gave us a little taste of the regular season…maybe.

First Period

The CBJ started off on a positive note with Alexander Wennberg drawing a penalty to give the team a power play opportunity just a minute into the game. Given the roster for the game, it wasn’t really possible for John Tortorella to ice a power play unit even remotely resembling something we’ll see in the regular season. The PP gained nothing.

Later in the 1st, the Penguins earned their own power play and Alex Galchenyuk found space to Elvis Merzlikins’ right side and wired one over his glove. This may prove to be Elvis’ ‘Welcome to the NHL’ moment as he reacted just a tad slow to the shot.

That’s all the scoring in the 1st as the Pens end the period with a 9-8 edge in shots.  The two best CBJ chances were both created by Sonny Milano throwing the puck from behind Matt Murray towards the front of the net to waiting teammates, but neither was able to convert. 6 of the CBJ’s 8 shots were from defensemen.

Second Period

The 2nd period is where the highlights occurred. Elvis makes a great post-to-post toe save on Galchenyuk off of a 2 on 1. Evgeni Malkin made a sweet saucer pass over the outstretched Ryan Collins right onto Galchenyuk’s stick. Fantastic movement by Elvis.

Later in the period, Merzlikins showed his great confidence in his stickwork by making an aggressive poke check on a Pens player on the doorstep.

At 12:02, good effort along the boards by Sonny Milano and Gustav Nyquist led to Kevin Stenlund with the puck behind the net. Milano kept working towards the net and Stenlund found him for the tying goal.

Veini Vehvilainen came on halfway through the 2nd period and into the maelstrom. Jake Guentzel was able to sneak past all of the Jackets – easier than it sounds – and was alone in front of VV. His shot glanced off Veini’s shoulder and into the net for a 2-1 Pens lead.

At the end of the 2nd period, VV misplayed a puck behind the net, lost his stick in the ensuing scrum, and had to make a solid, stick-less save as time ran out.

After 2 periods, the Pens lead 2-1 and had the edge in shots 24-17

Third Period

Well, very little defense was played this period. VV gave up two goals – the first was off a face off scrum in which Gabriel Carlsson whiffed on the puck and Pittsburgh’s Nathan Legare got off a quick shot through VV’s 5-hole. Gotta close that up, rook!

23 seconds later, everyone forgot to cover Legare while chasing the puck along the wall. The puck squirted right to the center of the ice where Legare had 17 years to tee up a laser past Vehvilainen.

The rest of the period included a lot of skating around, little offensive pressure from the CBJ, and a few more opportunities for VV to make high danger saves.

The game ends with the Pens still leading 4-1, which means they won 4-1.

Player to Watch

Swift decreed that Elvis Merzlikins was the player to watch for this game, so I did. Elvis was surprised early on by Galchenyuk, but he seemed to quickly regain his composure and found a groove. He had no shortage of opportunities to make saves as the Columbus defense strategy was similar to a Spanish matador’s.  Elvis showed good movement, seemed to track the puck well, and was very comfortable using his stick. He faced shots from good offensive players in Malkin, Guentzel, and Galchenyuk, so this wasn’t a case of abusing AHLers. It was a good outing for the King. He finished with 17 saves on 18 shots for a graceful .944 save percentage.

Other Notables

One of the writers thinks that tomorrow might be a big cut day for the Jackets. If so, there are only 4 or 5 players, aside from the established starters, worth keeping around. No one else made much of an impression at all – and some were straight poor.

The positive impressions?

Marko Dano – Showed a lot of physical play. He led the team in hits, but most were in the run of play. He wasn’t chasing. Stayed around the puck and showed a brief flash of that offensive skill that we all remember from his first stint here.

Sonny Milano – Frank had the best game of all the skaters. His goal was a result of not giving up on a play and getting himself into a good position to score. He also created several other chances by making smart passes towards the front of the goal – as opposed to his old penchant for bad angle shots.

Vladislav Gavrikov – Stood his ground and halted a couple of Pens offensive opportunities. He also looked like a boss while holding the puck behind his own goalie a couple of times.

Emil Bemstrom – Played on the top line with Nyquist and Wennberg. He was able to get his slapshot off a couple of times – but Murray was fast with the glove.

The negative impressions?

Just about everyone else. The Jackets played nothing that resembled defense. It is hard to gauge if any defenseman did truly well, but one played truly poorly. Gabriel Carlsson had a rough time. He lost the puck repeatedly despite no opponents being near him, he made poor passes that were easily picked off, and was caught out of position several times. Just not a good showing.

Nyquist is a starter, but he had a rough day as well. Loose with the puck, off with his passes – if he is going to have chemistry with Wennberg, there’s no where to go but up.

The Blue Jackets will host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Hopefully the lineup will include more of the regulars so we can start to get a feel for the team.

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