The crowd was electric. There was not a seat to be found inside Nationwide Arena Friday night when they hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs for their home opener. Finally, it was time to turn the page into a new season full of hope and questions.
Who knew what was going to happen with the Blue Jackets? How would they come out of the gate? As Cam Atkinson said postgame, they were trying to get their legs under them in the first period. But as the game wore on, in the words of Atkinson, “We started taking over the game especially in the second half of the game right after we scored. We just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities.”
And as Seth Jones said, “At the end of the second period, we had a lot of momentum. When the time ran out (at the end of the second), we probably wanted a couple more minutes on the clock there. Obviously, we let them regroup there after the period.”
Missed Chances Doom Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets actually played a pretty good game all things considered. The 4-1 final score is a disappointing result. But the Blue Jackets had the better play and held the majority of scoring chances at 5-on-5 (h/t Nat Stat Trick.)
The game fell in the Maple Leafs favor because of two important factors. The Leafs made the Blue Jackets pay on the man advantage. And then the Blue Jackets missed on their opportunities.
With the score still within easy reach, the Blue Jackets let several golden opportunities slip away that could have turned the momentum of the game. Jacob Lilja had two scoring chances. Josh Anderson had a clean breakaway but couldn’t finish. Boone Jenner hit a crossbar.
The Blue Jackets had opportunities. They did a nice job of controlling the play at even strength while putting focus on their play between the circles in front of goaltender Frederik Andersen. Andersen made several key saves to preserve the Leafs’ lead. Then their stars put the game out of reach in the third period. Mitch Marner scored his second of the game when Joonas Korpisalo accidentally kicked the puck into his own net. Then Auston Matthews unleashed an unstoppable shot to get to the 4-1 final score.
The lesson here is that the Blue Jackets must finish their chances when they get them, especially against an elite team like the Maple Leafs. In all situations per Nat Stat Trick, the Blue Jackets held a 2.02-1.95 advantage in expected goals for. But the Leafs won 4-1. That’s a combination of not finishing your chances, Andersen playing well and the Leafs taking advantage of their man advantage.
The Blue Jackets do however get the chance to put this game behind them right away as they travel to Pittsburgh to face their division rival the Penguins. We have a team in the Penguins who can score. It will be imperative that the Blue Jackets convert on the chances that they get. Going down multiple goals early will be a disaster especially when there is some question about how the lines will look. Coach Tortorella said he’s not sure how they’ll look on Saturday.
In all, the players and coach Tortorella felt they had good minutes. They did. But they didn’t finish. This will be the early story to follow as the season gets going. Who will step up and score important goals for this team? Who can finish when given the opportunity?
Marner and Matthews did when the Leafs needed it. It propelled them to victory. Now let’s see how the Blue Jackets respond to the early adversity thrown at them.
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 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.