The Columbus Blue Jackets needed to show something to prove that they were still in the playoff race. After a split against the defending Stanley Cup champions on their home ice, they’re on the right track. But they need to get results when the opportunity is there.
The Blue Jackets took care of business Tuesday night with a 3-1 win. Elvis Merzlikins stole the show and helped carry his team to a much-needed win. But then on Thursday night, the Lightning came back with two late third period goals to win 3-2. Despite that result, the Blue Jackets played one of their best overall games of the season.
For long stretches of Thursday night, the Blue Jackets dictated the play. They were able to match what the Lightning was throwing at them. Then when given the opportunity, the Blue Jackets pushed back and had many scoring chances against Andrei Vasilevskiy. They did get goals from Zach Werenski and Eric Robinson. But they couldn’t get any more. In the end, that cost them.
“It’s a game we need to win. Bottom line,” Werenski said postgame. You can tell by the tone of his voice that he personally took this game hard. They were right there and were in position to win. But they got no result. In his mind, this one was different than the other times they blew a chance to win.
A Possible Blueprint to Victory
Still, the main takeaway here besides finding a way to close the game out is that they have a blue print to victory. Coach John Tortorella made a decision to change the way they play. He wanted to give his team less to think about. The results at least so far have been promising.
First off, a new look line decided they were going to dominate. Max Domi centered a line with Robinson on the left and Patrik Laine on the right. Thursday was probably Domi and Laine’s best games since suiting up for the Blue Jackets. What did they do? They skated from puck drop and didn’t relent.
The trio combined for a goal, two assists and 13 shots on goal. They were noticeable and fast all night. Domi went as far as even calling Robinson a “dream” linemate given the speed and skill he brings. As for Laine, he was engaged all over the ice and showed good energy defensively. For one game, they did exactly what they needed to do.
But then, it seemed the team was playing loose. They were playing a lot more of a simple game. They didn’t seem overwhelmed by situations in the game. It’s a positive response to what Tortorella is trying to do.
A Change to the Approach
What did Tortorella do? He decided to take the middle away from the Lightning. They like to play with speed. Tortorella wanted to take as much of that away as possible. It worked Tuesday. It worked most of Thursday. A third forward high made a big difference. Take away those 55 seconds where the Lightning scored those two goals Thursday and you have a possible sweep of the champs on their home ice.
So yes to get a split in this circumstance is very frustrating from a Blue Jackets perspective. But in the grand scheme, if they can play like this moving forward, they might be on to something. They must start winning a lot of games in short order. But the blue print was clearly there to see.
Keep it simple. Keep the opposition to the outside. Play loose and fast. The Blue Jackets did that and almost got four points in Tampa Bay. As it stands, a split is an acceptable result and you move onto the next one.
It was signs of life. That’s what they needed on this part of the trip to have any chance at the postseason.
- Andrei Vasilevskiy remains perfect at home. Not sure anyone catches him for the Vezina trophy. He has a strong case for the Hart trophy at this point.
- The Blue Jackets fell down 1-0 after a five-on-three goal against after a too many men call. Tortorella said postgame he got an explanation but didn’t agree with it. Boone Jenner was trying to get off the ice before Robinson played the puck. Tortorella said it’s a play that happens throughout the game but didn’t like that it put them down two men. It cost them a huge goal.
- Tortorella said 99% of the team played their tails off. He also admitted he did not like Jack Roslovic’s game. Put those together and…it will be curious to see how this transpires in terms of if a scratch is coming.
- GM Jarmo Kekalainen joined our show THW Live Wednesday night to talk state of the team and more.
- Kekalainen said Gus Nyquist is about two weeks away once his shoulder is strong enough. Talk about a “free” deadline acquisition. They’ve sorely missed him this season.
- As for the deadline approach, he will take all the time necessary to determine his course of action. They’re still in this race. He said he doesn’t want to give up on a playoff chance if one is available. That means he could look to help give them a boost should they remain in the hunt in these next few games.
- Finally goalie of the future Daniil Tarasov is expected to make his North American debut Saturday night in Cleveland for the Monsters. Many believe his upside is higher than both Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo. That’s intriguing to watch for sure.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.