The Columbus Blue Jackets entered their Christmas break in style thanks to some unlikely heroes.
Kevin Stenlund scored on a power play. Cleveland Monsters co-captain Nathan Gerbe added a goal and defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov converted the game winner with 3:29 left in regulation to lift the Blue Jackets to their fifth-straight win and 6-0-2 in their last eight, 3-2 over the New York Islanders. Gavrikov’s game winner was both a fortunate bounce and an impressive play.
The play started with Pierre-Luc Dubois carrying the puck on the wall in the Islanders zone. While fending off a defender, he found an open Gavrikov at center point. Here’s where the impressive part begins.
Gavrikov then streaks up the right side and attempts a backhand pass which gets blocked. But thanks to a fortunate bounce, the puck ends up with Alexandre Texier. Texier is able to get a shot off that forces Thomas Greiss to leave a rebound.
While all of that was happening, Gavrikov skated behind the Islanders net and was wide open to deposit the rebound behind Greiss. This was both impressive by Gavrikov but also a defensive breakdown by the Islanders.
Coming into this season, the word on Gavrikov was that he wasn’t known as an offensive defenseman. But he’s quickly showing he has this element to his game. His move up the wall to get the puck towards the net shows he’s willing to pinch when needed. But here’s the neat part. His awareness to keep himself in the play allowed this game-winning goal to happen.
Texier controlled the puck and was able to get his shot off. Islanders forward Josh Bailey stopped following Gavrikov. This allowed the defenseman a free skate around the net to the other side. Next thing you know the puck is right there for an easy tap in. This was skill and some luck all rolled into one. It led to victory for the Blue Jackets.
That goal for Gavrikov was his fourth of the season and the third in his last nine games. He’s quickly emerging as someone that John Tortorella can depend on at both ends of the ice. A closer look at his season indicates he’s not coming out of the lineup anytime soon even when everyone is healthy.
Looking at Nat Stat Trick and 5-on-5 numbers, Gavrikov’s season has been very impressive. Have a look at his numbers.
- CF%: 52.99%
- xGF%: 55.75%
- SCF%: 55.02%
CF% is corsi-for percentage, or the percentage of shot attempts a player is on the ice for in comparison to the total shot attempts. xGF% is expected goals for percentage and SCF% is scoring chances for percentage. If these are over 50%, that means the team enjoys a majority of the chances when that player is on the ice. It shows Gavrikov’s positive impact. Now consider Gavrikov has only played a total of 2:21 on the power play this season and you see his work happening at even strength. That’s even more impressive.
Gavrikov has provided stability in the bottom-two defensive pairs. But he’s also demonstrating that he has some personality too. He’s quickly becoming a fan favorite.
Did you notice that when Gavrikov scores a goal, he makes a phone call? Who is he calling? Fox Sports Ohio’s Dave Maetzold got to ask him? His answer?
That’s an awesome answer. It’s great to see him play around and smile with this. It clearly shows just how comfortable he is despite being new to the NHL. Gavrikov’s emergence is also a sign of just how good that defensive depth is. It’s going to lead to some interesting decisions later.
Gavrikov Fortifies Depth
We outlined this recently. If the Blue Jackets feel they have enough good defensemen in which they can afford to trade one for some offensive help, it’s an option. With the way Gavrikov is playing, how can you take him out even when Markus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray return?
No matter how it shakes out, once everyone is healthy, there will be some very difficult decisions coming. Someone has to sit. This defensive depth is a clear strength of the team. The rise of Gavrikov puts the Blue Jackets in a prime position with many options.
The Blue Jackets were excited about Gavrikov and have been for years. Now we see why. He’s steady. He can add offense. He has personality. He’s quickly becoming a fan favorite. He’s done everything you could ask of him and then some. And he’s only going to get better. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
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.