Friday night in St. Louis, Columbus Blue Jackets forward Sonny Milano had a major impact on the outcome of the game both good and bad. It perfectly illustrates how frustrating he can be especially to head coach John Tortorella.
Let’s set the scene for you. The Blue Jackets played a good first period after playing two poor games in a row against Philadelphia and Edmonton. However they were down 1-0 anyway thanks to a goal by Robert Thomas. But then the Blue Jackets ended the period about as well as you could.
Gus Nyquist found Pierre-Luc Dubois for his sixth goal of the season to even the game at one. The Blue Jackets had all the momentum at that point and it carried over to the second period.
Now enter Milano.
Milano’s Beautiful Goal
Milano carried the puck down left-wing and gained entry into the Blues’ zone. He then unleashed a cross-ice pass to Alexander Wennberg. Wennberg then fed the puck to the point where David Savard tried a shot on goal. Although the shot was deflected wide, the Blue Jackets regained possession. But it was what Milano was doing after his pass that shows the good he can bring.
Milano skated behind the net to the opposite side of where the play was happening. Defenseman Scott Harrington got the puck on left point and threw it towards the net. The puck deflected off Oliver Bjorkstrand and went to an uncovered Milano just underneath the circle. With Blues’ goaltender Jordan Binnington out of position on the other side of the net, Milano blasted it home to give the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead. There’s a lot to love about this play.
First, Milano’s entry into the zone was nice to see. With the way he skates and the offense he brings, this is one of the better parts of his game. He then makes a good read to try that pass. It does get to Wennberg. But then what Milano did after was nice to see.
He put himself in position to have an impact in case there was a rebound. Good offensive players just have that instinct of knowing where to go. It doesn’t always lead to a goal, but the chance is there. Thanks to the Harrington shot and Bjorkstrand deflection, the puck found a well-positioned Milano and that was that.
Then just under five minutes later, Bjorkstrand converted a power-play goal to make 3-1 Blue Jackets. They carried the momentum they got at the end of the first to the midway part of the game and were in control.
Milano’s Crushing Penalties
Then Milano happened again. But this time, it was for the not so good reason.
Less than a minute after the Bjorkstrand goal, Milano takes an interference call against Blues’ captain Alex Pietrangelo. This was a big kill, right? As it turns out, it put the Blues right back in the game in a big way.
Brayden Schenn scored on that resulting power play to make it 3-2. Then Oscar Sundqvist scored 26 seconds later to make it 3-3. Those first 30 minutes were thus vanquished thanks to that interference call. It was a new game.
The second period ended 3-3. The third period also ended 3-3 so the Blue Jackets did get at least a point. But there were some concerns. The Blue Jackets let up some which allowed the Blues to dominate the third. Momentum had completely swung the other way.
Then Milano happened again. This time he got dinged for hooking with 1:52 left in regulation. It was a soft call against Milano but you still can’t be in a position where the referee can call something borderline. Although the Blue Jackets got it to overtime, the game ended just eight seconds after the extra session began thanks to David Perron.
The game winner was a power-play goal as it was scored at exactly the two-minute mark. So the two sides of Milano were on full display. He was one of the best offensive players for the Blue Jackets on the night. But he took two penalties that helped give the Blues both needed momentum and an overtime win.
What’s Next for Sonny?
The question now is, what comes next for Milano?
Tortorella put it perfectly when summarizing Milano. “He’s frustrating because he’s probably one of our best offensive players tonight. It’s frustrating that he continues putting himself in that world.”
And one more quote, “This is something, he’s gotta figure it out.”
It’s not too far to say that the penalties were crushing. Milano has to understand game situation to know that he can’t put himself in any kind of position that a call can be made against him. But at the same time, he brings that much needed offensive upside.
Here’s the thing to watch. Recall Tortorella said earlier in the season that he’s going to have to change the way he coaches a little bit in terms of mistakes being made. “This is a league of mistakes,” Tortorella said. He would normally be quick to act on something like this. But can he afford to pull Milano out given what he can bring?
This will be an interesting test of Tortorella’s earlier quote. On Saturday morning, the Blue Jackets called Kole Sherwood up from Cleveland and sent Jakob Lilja to the Monsters. I believe Sherwood plays against the Flames, but we won’t know that until the afternoon availability. Still there’s bottom of the lineup questions, so we’ll see how it shakes out.
Milano has made vast improvements in his game over these last couple of years. He’s better away from the puck and he’s making some better decisions. Now he has to figure the penalties out. If he can, it could be a huge boost to the Blue Jackets. If he can’t, he’s wasting a golden opportunity to play more and gain more ice time.
Who knows what will happen next? I’m not sure anyone knows at this point.
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.