The Columbus Blue Jackets couldn’t recover from an early hole they dug themselves Thursday night (Dec. 16), losing 5-2 to the Edmonton Oilers. The loss dropped them to 14-13-1 on the season. The win ended the Oilers’ six-game losing streak and improved their record to 17-11-0.
The Oilers got off to a strong start in the first period, as Jesse Puljujarvi scored two power-play goals less than a minute apart following two simultaneous Blue Jackets penalties. Derek Ryan added another goal three minutes later, and the Oilers had a 3-0 lead after one period.
Brendan Perlini made it 4-0 late in the second period. The Blue Jackets climbed back to within two in the third period thanks to goals from Gustav Nyquist and Justin Danforth, but Warren Foegele iced it with an empty-net goal 17:06 into the final period.
Puljujarvi also had an assist to go along with his two goals, Perlini added an assist to his goal, Connor McDavid notched two assists, and Stuart Skinner stopped 36 of 38 shots for the Oilers. Vladislav Gavrikov had seven hits and a blocked shot for the Blue Jackets, and Andrew Peeke added four hits and three blocks.
Tough Stretch for Merzlikins
Elvis Merzlikins got the start in net Thursday night but was pulled at the beginning of the third period for Joonas Korpisalo after giving up four goals on 29 shots. Merzlikins has now allowed four goals in each of his last three starts, and he’s allowed at least four goals in five of his last six starts. He was pulled in two of those.
On the bright side, he also pitched a gem in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks on December 9, saving 1.5 goals above expected, according to MoneyPuck.com, and he is still showing flashes of brilliance.
Some of his struggles can also be attributed to the defense in front of him. Although he has given up more goals than expected in five of his last six starts, the difference between the actual and expected goals was less than one in two of those, including Thursday’s game in Edmonton.
Merzlikins’ overall numbers so far this season are a 3.06 goals-against average (GAA) and a .911 save percentage (SV%) in 19 starts. He’s 11-7-1 in those games.
Jarmo Kekäläinen and the Blue Jackets shocked the hockey world in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, passing on consensus number-three prospect Puljujarvi, a winger, in favor of Pierre-Luc Dubois, a center. Puljujarvi was taken with the next pick by the Oilers.
The move worked out for the Blue Jackets, as Dubois played better in Columbus than Puljujarvi has in Edmonton. Following a rift with then-coach John Tortorella, Dubois was traded by the Blue Jackets to the Jets for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic in January.
Although the pick has worked out better for the Blue Jackets the last four years, it worked out better for the Oilers on Thursday night. Puljujarvi opened the scoring 7:24 into the first, backhanding a rebound off the back wall for a power-play goal. He scored another one 46 seconds later off some nice passing from Leon Draisaiti and Tyson Barrie.
Puljujarvi also had the primary assist on Foegele’s empty-net goal. The 23-year-old is having a breakout season thus far, registering 23 points (10 goals and 13 assists) through 28 games. His previous season-high was 25 points (15 goals and 10 assists) in 55 games in 2020-21.
Time To Regroup
After a surprisingly strong start to the season, the Blue Jackets have hit a bit of a wall. They are 2-5-1 in the month of December and 2-7-1 in their last 10 games.
We’ve had a lot of road games, but we’ve got to find our game here again. We’re still in it, we’ve just got to find our game a little bit here and string together some wins.Gustav Nyquist, on the Blue Jackets’ recent rough stretch
They’ll have some time to rest and reset, as the Blue Jackets’ scheduled game against the Calgary Flames Saturday (Dec. 18) was postponed due to COVID-19 issues. Because of that, they will not play again until Monday (Dec. 20), when they face the Buffalo Sabres.
The Blue Jackets play just two games in the next ten days, both against the 10-15-4 Sabres, so this could be a good time for them to get healthy (Patrik Laine has been practicing and could return soon) and get back on track.
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Monday’s game in Buffalo is slated to start at 7:00 PM ET. The Oilers travel to Seattle to play the Kraken (10-16-3) Saturday night at 10:00 PM ET.
Grant is a freelance writer covering the Florida Panthers/Columbus Blue Jackets and contributing to Morning Skate for THW. He started his own sports blog (Head in the Game) in 2013 and worked in the sports information department while at Trine University, from where he graduated in 2019. You can follow Grant on Twitter @G_Tingley.