The Columbus Blue Jackets have waited all season for Max Domi to start making an impact in games. Slowly but surely, it seems he’s finally coming along.
Domi recorded a goal and a primary assist on Saturday as the Blue Jackets defeated the Dallas Stars 4-3 in overtime thanks to Zach Werenski’s goal with just 4.5 seconds left in the extra session. But beyond the scoring, Domi is much more noticeable in all areas of the ice. For a team looking for consistency, this is a welcomed sight.
A Frustrating Start
Big things were expected for Domi after the Blue Jackets traded for him during the offseason. The plan was for him to come in and play as one of the top centers.
However Domi struggled mightily out of the gate. He looked lost and lacked confidence. Head coach John Tortorella took him off center and put him on the wing to give him a chance to figure things out and find his game.
Domi’s demotion out of the top-six also put the Blue Jackets in a bind. The original plan at center was to have Domi and Pierre-Luc Dubois handle the top-two positions. But thanks to Domi’s struggles and Dubois’ trade request, the team had to look to other sources for help down the middle. This meant turning to players who have little to no experience down the middle. This has led to an inconsistent start.
But in these last 5-6 games, Domi is starting to settle in. There’s a confidence in his game that was absent early on. He’s making better decisions with the puck. His skating is much more noticeable. He looks more engaged. During Saturday night’s game, he was put on a line with Jack Roslovic and Cam Atkinson. That line looked fast and gave the Stars fits. Domi spoke about the direction his game is going.
“I think the last five or six games I’ve felt like myself which is good,” Domi said. “That was a huge win tonight and we’ll build on it. And it was a great effort by everyone. (We) found a way to win and that’s what it’s all about. We just gotta get ready to go for another one tomorrow.”
Domi also enjoyed playing with his new linemates. We’ll see if it’ll last but for at least one game, they were excellent.
“Obviously, the three of us are offensive guys that want the puck and want to be in their zone. The way to do that is put in a little extra effort when we’re hunting the puck or in their O-zone and not circling away…That little extra step, that stick effort, that’s what makes a difference.”
The 1-0 goal by Domi showed that extra effort he mentioned. Roslovic put a perfect pass over to Domi. His shot was stopped but he kept with the play and was able to bury the rebound. Earlier in the season, we couldn’t see this aggressiveness because he didn’t look engaged. He played a frustrated brand of hockey where the mental side of the game was overtaking him.
Tortorella is seeing signs of Domi’s game coming alive on the offensive end.
“I think Max, he’s more involved in the offense,” Tortorella said. “It just seems the puck is getting to him. He’s more involved.”
Domi settling in and feeling more comfortable couldn’t have come a better time this season. The Blue Jackets need consistency in their game. If he’s truly back to himself, he should have more of an impact to the playoff race. Believe it or not as we sit here on Sunday before the games begin, the Blue Jackets are just five points out for a playoff spot. With 27 games left, that is an achievable goal.
However it’s only achievable if Domi continues on this current path and the rest of the team steps their game up. They get another chance at the Stars on Sunday afternoon. A win here would create more separation with the Stars while reducing the deficit to three points. This is a huge game to show that they can build off what they started on Saturday.
Domi is a huge part of this team. He is now making important strides in his game. He has a ways to go but is on the right track of making something good out of this season.
- Saturday night might have been Roslovic’s best game as a Blue Jacket. His skating took center stage and drove his line to success. But the most noticeable play that caught my eye was the battle he won before Atkinson’s goal to make it 2-2. They lost the faceoff but Roslovic went back and won the puck by checking his name and getting the puck back. Then his pass to Domi set the play in motion. Roslovic’s effort had been called out of late. It seems message received. He was their best player Saturday and finished the game with three assists.
- Zach Werenski scored just his second goal of the season but it was a huge goal. It was with 4.5 seconds left in overtime. Oliver Bjorkstrand had multiple chances right before and Werenski was able to collect the puck and beat Jake Oettinger before the buzzer. Coming off a 20-goal season, Werenski’s production has dipped. Perhaps this will get his offensive game going.
- The game Saturday had zero penalty minutes, a first for a game at Nationwide Arena in its history for the Blue Jackets. But there was a penalty that led to a penalty shot for Emil Bemstrom. He didn’t score but his game is more noticeable. Tortorella postgame said that he wants to see Bemstrom get a goal to help his confidence. He’s getting his chances. It feels like a goal is coming soon. It would have been a cool moment had he scored on the penalty shot. The arena was cheering loudly for him. Had he connected, that would have blown the roof off the arena while injecting major confidence in him. He is doing the little things right these days. But he needs a goal to get that monkey off his back.
- On Saturday during an interview with Fox Sports Ohio, GM Jarmo Kekalainen said that goalie prospect Daniil Tarasov is coming over once his season ends. That’s a huge development and explains the trade made that sent Veini Vehvilainen to the Maple Leafs. Matiss Kivlenieks and Tarasov will be the goalies in Cleveland. The team is very high on him to the point where they see him as their future number one in net. The trade also tells me that Seattle might not be looking at the Blue Jackets for a goalie in the expansion draft. If they were afraid to lose Kivlenieks, I don’t think they make that deal. Still the future in net is coming to North America soon. That’s a big deal.
- Of course Patrik Laine starts overtime Saturday. Of course he does. It was to be expected after how Thursday transpired.
- Cam Atkinson played in his 600th NHL game. He also scored a goal that helped the Blue Jackets get back in the game.
I’m a fully credentialed writer that covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Cleveland Monsters and the OHL. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.