Blue Jackets Bottom Nine Finally Rise to Occasion

The Columbus Blue Jackets waited all season for this moment. The moment finally came Thursday night in Glendale when the team needed it the most.

Lukas Sedlak opened the scoring early and played perhaps his strongest game of the season in helping the Blue Jackets to a 4-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes. You could tell right from his first shift that his line was primed to thrive on this night.

With the puck in the Coyotes’ zone early in the game, Sedlak, Markus Hannikainen and Riley Nash put their work caps on and attacked. Their intense pressure allowed them a couple of early scoring opportunities including a goal post. But they didn’t stop. The puck was in front of Coyotes’ goaltender Darcy Kuemper and they kept pressing. Finally, Sedlak gets his stick on it to open the scoring.

The Blue Jackets needed a good start and got it thanks to the fourth line. They weren’t done on this night, not by a long shot.

Bottom-Nine Thrives

When the team needed momentum to swing back their way, this trio was on the ice. They earned the trust of John Tortorella and saw big minutes in key situations especially in the third period. They along with the Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner lines played the majority of the second half of the game.

The normally dangerous trio of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson found themselves in an unusual position later in the game: planted on the Blue Jackets’ bench not to see the ice again after just a few shifts in the third period.

When asked postgame if it was the performance of the the top line or the bottom-nine that prompted the move, Tortorella confirmed it was the performance of the top line that prompted the benching.

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It was a strange sight to behold live. As lines kept coming over the boards, that top line was never coming on. It proves once again that Tortorella is not afraid to make a move if he feels it benefits the team. It’s hard to argue the results based on overall performance.

The top line was hard to find most of the night. They didn’t have the usual spark or fire you’re used to seeing. Tortorella had enough and went to his other lines. Look at the final on-ice times for the Blue Jackets’ forwards:

  • Artemi Panarin: 16:11
  • Cam Atkinson: 14:13
  • Pierre-Luc Dubois: 14:36, despite winning over 80% of draws on the night.
  • Boone Jenner: 20:09
  • Nick Foligno: 18:59
  • Josh Anderson: 18:57
  • Alex Wennberg: 13:56
  • Anthony Duclair: 11:35
  • Oliver Bjorkstrand: 14:31
  • Riley Nash: 12:18
  • Lukas Sedlak: 12:00
  • Markus Hannikainen: 11:27

In the end, the minutes were more spread out. Ideally, the Blue Jackets would like this kind of outcome to happen every night without having to bench a line. Their chances of success increase dramatically if they can consistently get all four lines going at the same time. So although it was not the best night for the top-line, it may prove to be a blessing later on if this game wakes up the other forwards.

Thanks to the bottom-nine, the Blue Jackets now have a chance at a sweep of the road trip when they take on the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.

Boone Jenner Blue Jackets
Boone Jenner was a force Thursday and led the Blue Jackets in time on ice. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Mark’s Observations

  1. The Blue Jackets feasted on the Coyotes in the faceoff circle. They won 64% of draws for the night led by Dubois’ 82%. Wennberg was 7/9 and Jenner was 18/27. This allowed the Blue Jackets to gain possession and momentum at different points in the game. The Coyotes couldn’t get anything going after Josh Anderson’s power play goal. Winning the dot helped that cause.
  2. I asked Tortorella after the game if this was the best that both the power play and penalty kill have played at the same time. He admitted that the power-play goal was an opportunity they’ve had before but this one went in. It happened to become the game-winning goal. And the penalty kill has carried this team since the start of 2019. As a result of Thursday’s performance, the Blue Jackets now have the fourth-best PK in the league at 84%. They trail the Coyotes for first by less than 1%. The power play is now up to 25th at over 16%, a dramatic improvement from just one month ago. How about that hall-of-famer Martin St. Louis?
  3. I’m paying close attention to Sergei Bobrovsky given the noise. While there have been some nervous moments at times, he’s been strong in this last little stretch. He made a couple of key saves to help keep the game tied when the Coyotes had some push in the second period. The fact that he can perform at such a high level given everything that’s happened is pretty amazing. If it’s not with the Blue Jackets, he will more than help someone willing to pay up for his services.
  4. Seth Jones is a freak of nature and I’m convinced he was created in a lab. He made some plays Thursday that won’t hit the score sheet but they will make you go wow. His ability to exit the zone with size and speed is beautiful to watch. It’s a game changing ability that can swing momentum at key moments. He can protect the puck and defenders usually can’t do anything about it. But he can also lead the rush as if he’s a forward. He’s such a treat to watch and will be a big reason why the Blue Jackets can make noise in the playoffs if they make it. Side note: Tortorella postgame didn’t even want to consider the word playoffs yet when asked about it.
  5. The Blue Jackets continue to play well on the road. I asked both Zach Werenski pregame and David Savard postgame why that was. They both echoed the same sentiment. They feel the Blue Jackets play a simpler game on the road. Said Savard, “we need to play this kind of game at home too.” Said Werenski, “I think we try to do a little too much at home, whether it’s a perfect pass or pretty play. We need to play a simpler game.” After Saturday night’s game in Vegas, the Blue Jackets come home to two critical games against the Islanders and Capitals. We’ll see if they can bring their best road game home to Nationwide Arena.