The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Montreal Canadiens by a final score of 5-1 on Wednesday night. Because there is so much to talk about from this game, we’re going to share our 10 takeaways from the game.
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1. Roslovic’s Scoring Tear
There is no Blue Jacket hotter right now than Jack Roslovic. He scored the first two goals of the game Wednesday. The first was a shot Canadiens’ goalie Samuel Montembeault should have stopped. The second went in off of Roslovic’s finger. When you’re hot, you’re hot, right?
“It’s just the way it’s playing out. When you’re hot, you’re hot,” Roslovic said postgame. “One goes off my finger, lucky bounce. I don’t think we had the best second but we got the job done in the first and the third. We just got to sharpen up.”
Roslovic now has five goals in his last two games which includes his hat trick from Saturday night in Detroit. He looks like a much different player since the beginning of the season. Coach Brad Larsen reiterated that Roslovic had his “come to Jesus” moment back in Calgary.
Related: Blue Jackets’ Roslovic Talks Struggles, Confidence and the Trade Deadline
In the 27 games since that turnover in Calgary, Roslovic has 9-9-18. His 17 goals is a career-high. But it’s the continued growth of his game overall that has given him a jolt of confidence. He’s had this stretch while being the team’s number-one center. He’s facing tougher competition and continues to show levels of improvement.
2. Roslovic & Laine Leaning on Each Other
Speaking of lines clicking, Roslovic’s line with Patrik Laine and Gus Nyquist have been dominant in recent games. Ever since Larsen put Nyquist back with the pair, they’ve controlled play and had a big hand in determining the outcome of games.
There’s a certain element of Nyquist’s game that Laine appreciates. Let him explain that for you.
“When you watch him, you don’t really see how fast he’s going,” Laine said of Nyquist. “He looks slow is not the right term, but he’s buzzing out there. He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever seen to protect the puck. He’s four-foot nothing as a guy. He’s so much fun to play with. He can make those plays as we’ve seen.”
Taking this one step further, Laine admitted to having talks with Roslovic all throughout the season especially when they had their struggles.
Here’s Laine: “Part of it is talking about faceoffs. He still has those nights when his percentage is not too good. We’ve talked about it. He’s learning. He’s working on it. I think overall his defensive game has been improved probably more than his O-zone game. It’s really awesome to see that as a teammate and linemate.
Here’s Roslovic: “It’s easy to play with (Laine.) Just like any human we both mess up often. I think more than anything it’s just being able to stay positive with each other throughout a game. We’re two passionate guys that can lose the game a little bit sometimes. It’s good to have him, a guy who’s a friend off the ice and to be able to translate that on the ice. It’s really good to have a support cast like that especially on your line.”
This is certainly a side of both players you don’t see that often. But it shows just how much each other care about their development and how it will help the team moving forward.
3. Laine Back to Scoring
Laine entered Wednesday night’s game on a 10-game goalless drought. It certainly was a dip for him from recent performances. He made sure to end the drought when given the chance.
Laine connected on a power-play goal after securing two primary assists on the Roslovic goals. Laine’s 1-2-3 night put him at 56 points in 55 games this season. Laine has a shot at 30 goals (needs four in the last eight games) and a new career high for assists (needs six in the last eight games.)
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While there have been obvious dips, it seems that Laine is producing more to the level we come to expect. The attention goes to his goal scoring for good reason. But he has a chance to get a new career high in assists. The playmaking aspect of his game doesn’t get the attention it deserves. On some nights it’s just as good as his ability to finish. He continues to only scratch the surface of his potential.
4. Kent Johnson’s Debut
Let’s switch to the main course for the night. Top prospect Kent Johnson made his debut Wednesday after immigration and visa issues were cleared. He played just over 11 minutes. He took his first minor penalty. Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet otherwise, a close look suggests just how special this player will be.
In particular, one play stood out. Johnson hit Oliver Bjorkstrand with a pass that led to a 2-on-1 break. The Blue Jackets didn’t score on the play, but the events leading up to the play deserve full mention.
First, Johnson was in the perfect spot on defense to break up the play on the wall. That in and of itself is a good play. But then to convert that into that pass to Bjorkstrand that led to a rush chance? Goodness. And to have that happen in game one?
Now there were nerves too. There was certainly an adjustment to the speed of the game taking place. In addition, the defense will present a bigger challenge. But all in all, it was a good debut for Johnson. He endeared himself to fans by laying a big hit on his first shift. He’s ready to embrace the Blue Jacket way. These last eight games will certainly help him focus on what he needs to do to be ready for next season.
5. Nick Blankenburg’s Super Debut
Johnson’s teammate Nick Blankenburg made his NHL debut as well. He was really good. He recorded his first NHL point when Cole Sillinger scored in the third period. But it was a hit that caught everyone’s attention.
Early in the game, Blankenburg put a hit on Jake Evans that sent Evan flying. The crowd roared in approval. It also caught the attention of Larsen. You could see there was already a trust level being established.
As for the night, Blankenburg called it a dream come true. “I’m at a loss for words just thinking about it,” Blankenburg said postgame. He finished as the third star of the night. He was put on the scoreboard for his first NHL point. And he was put in some different game situations too.
6. Blankenburg Already on the PK
With Andrew Peeke in the box, Blankenburg got some penalty killing time. It’s not often that someone playing their NHL debut gets right in on the PK. Here’s Larsen on why he trusted Blankenburg to be out there.
“He’s assertive. I trust his game,” Larsen said. “He had four blocked shots after two periods. He’s five-foot, I won’t even say how much he is. It doesn’t matter. But he gets in the way. There’s a will to do it.”
“Right away you see he’s got a real intent to defend. He gets beat in the third, guy is coming through the slot and he finds a way to recover. He gets his stick and gets the guy to make a pass. That’s a skill. I could tell how (Steve McCarthy) was using him. He built trust real quick.”
With the news that Jake Christiansen was sent to the Cleveland Monsters on Thursday, it’s a sign that Blankenburg will get games on the California road trip. He’s clearly earned the opportunity and the team wants to see what he can bring in these last eight games. Wednesday night will be a night he’ll never forget.
7. University of Michigan at the Game
Johnson and Blankenburg had some special visitors at the game. Some of the University of Michigan hockey team including head coach Mel Pearson were on hand. Check out the video below shot by Pearson showing the team surprise Johnson and Blankenburg after their debuts.
8. Elvis Merzlikins Wins on His Birthday
We managed to get through seven things before getting to the birthday guy himself. Elvis Merzlikins gave up just one goal on 21 shots on his 28th birthday. He’s now 25-19-6 on the season and still has a save percentage over .900. Given the Blue Jackets struggles in allowing shots, this is still somewhat impressive.
The only goal Merzlikins allowed was a second period goal to Ryan Poehling on a deflection. It was a lighter night for him than normal but he was still really good.
Although there’s a back-to-back coming up, expect Merzlikins to play both Los Angeles and Anaheim. Larsen is on record as saying he wants Merzlikins to experience this.
9. Zach Werenski Reaches 400 NHL Games
Can you believe this one? Seems like just yesterday that Werenski entered the league after winning the AHL’s Calder Cup. What a start to his career indeed. And his big contract doesn’t even kick in until next season.
In those 400 games, he has 76-160-236. Most of that time was spent as a rover. Now he’s their clear number-one defenseman. And you know what? He’s already tied a career high for points and still has eight games left. He’s still working on the finer points defensively, but his offense hasn’t suffered at all.
If his next 400 go anything like his first 400, Werenski is on track to be their greatest defenseman of all-time.
10. Honoring Josh Anderson & David Savard
The Blue Jackets played one tribute video for returning former players Anderson and Savard. Each had a big hand in the success of the team over the last several seasons when they were making the playoffs.
Both players waved to the crowd after the video. It was obvious it meant a lot to them. Pregame, each player expressed how much they love Columbus with Savard saying he would be a frequent visitor in the future. This along with the other events of the night made it a memorable Wednesday night at Nationwide Arena.