The Columbus Blue Jackets returned to Nationwide Arena on Saturday night looking to get back in the win column. After a particularly difficult loss against the Anaheim Ducks, which extended their losing streak to three games, the Jackets had something to prove against the visiting San Jose Sharks.
The Jackets showed some life in front of their home fans, overcoming a slow start and winning 5-3. Despite the win, they remain the worst team in the NHL, but there were definitely some positives among the takeaways. Here are three takeaways from the Blue Jackets’ win over the Sharks.
Blue Jackets’ Slow Start Not Helpful
There is a reason the Blue Jackets are involved in so many comeback efforts or blown leads; it’s their inability to play a full 60 minutes of hockey. While they were on the winning side of the comeback in this one, the pendulum has swung in the other direction far too many times this season.
The start in this one was slow for Columbus. Really slow. Through the first period of hockey, the Jackets only had two shots on goal, compared to the Sharks’ 15. That differential was key in their falling behind 2-0 through the first 25 minutes of play. Then they got a bit of a spark from enforcer Mathieu Olivier, who fought Sharks’ tough guy Jonah Gadjovic, and the tides turned.
Didn’t have the start we wanted, but it was good timing and thankfully we responded well to it and got a big win here.Mathieu Olivier told post-game media about his fight, which turned the tides of the game.
After the fight, a fire began to stoke within the Jackets. Their defense got tighter. Their forecheck became more aggressive. They shot more and worked better as a unit. Through the last two periods, they only allowed 10 shots while putting up 27.
It reflected quickly on the scoresheet as eight minutes after the tilt Johnny Gaudreau broke the shutout with a power-play goal. Less than a minute after, captain Boone Jenner evened things up. Early in the third, the Sharks scored a goal in a scramble around the net getting ahead for a second time, but it was short-lived as Patrik Laine answered less than two minutes later. Gus Nyquist got the Jackets their first lead of the night and Sean Kuraly sealed it with an empty netter to give them the win.
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While Columbus ultimately came back and played some pretty solid hockey along the way, just think of how much further ahead they would have been if they played the first period like they played the last two.
Blue Jackets’ Big Guns Were Firing
Too many times we’ve seen Blue Jackets’ head coach Brad Larsen icing his checking line in the key moment of a game because his big dogs were not doing their part. That was not the case in this one. It’s often said that to have a chance in a hockey game, ‘your best players have to be your best players.’ That was certainly the case for the Jackets against the Sharks on Saturday night.
That starts with their highest active cap hits in Gaudreau and Laine. The duo connected on two goals, including Gaudreau’s first power-play goal of the season (seriously). The Finn showed he can pass as well as he shoots with a blind cross-seam pass that found ‘Johnny Hockey.’ They connected again, indirectly, on Laine’s goal in the final stanza of the game. There is no excuse for not having those two players flanking one another every time they touch the ice, especially as they try to build chemistry through this season and into the future.
Columbus’ third biggest cap hit was also a key contributor: Nyquist scored a goal and added an assist. The Jackets don’t just need him to play well to help the team win some games but also to audition as a rental piece for playoff teams at the upcoming trade deadline. He’s now crossed the threshold of 10 goals on the season and is on pace for 40 points. Add scoring and two-way play to his experience and he is a key trade chip. Every game that he plays this well is another boost to his value on the market.
Kent Johnson Warming to the NHL
Kent Johnson’s playmaking ability looked like a clone of Gaudreau’s with two assists against the Sharks. His third multi-point game was key in the comeback effort. Following the first goal of the night, Johnson carried the momentum as a middle man between a great forecheck from Nyquist to a streaking Jenner who wristed his 12th goal of the season.
The edgework by Johnson to finesse himself between the first defender and pull the second one wide to open a lane for Jenner to sneak into the middle was astounding. The way he managed to get his pass off in a way that evaded the stick of the Sharks’ Matt Nieto was also something to behold. It was a quick move and a not-so-simple play that found the right player and brought the Jackets even on the scoreboard.
Then his second assist was equally as simple but demonstrated a similar level of high hockey IQ. Nyquist was again tenacious on a backcheck. He held the blue line and chipped the puck ahead to Johnson who instead of looking to the middle for an open player just did a simple turn and pass back to Nyquist who scored on a laser beam wrist shot.
It’s not so much the big “highlight reel” plays that turn a young player into an “NHLer.” It’s taking those smaller plays that happen every shift and making the right decision time and time again. Johnson made two simple and smart plays that led to goals. He is well on his way to becoming the productive, everyday NHL player that he was expected to be when he was drafted fifth overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
Despite the Jackets’ slow start, they were able to come back from a deficit on two separate occasions against the Sharks. Their 5-3 win was closer than it should have been, but nonetheless, they skate away with their 14th win and their 30th point in the standings. Now the ‘Union Blue’ embark on a four-game road trip against four tough opponents on the West Coast. They will try to build on this win and improve on their league-worst 3-15-1 record in away games.
Writer covering the Columbus Blue Jackets for THW since August 2021.
Co-host of the Blue Jackets’ focused “Union Junction Podcast” on The Hockey Writers’ podcast network.
Also, a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.