It wasn’t always nice, but that Columbus Blue Jackets were able to win a much-needed regulatory victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday evening. Latest Blue Jackets Jack Roslovic and Patrik Laine each scored their first goal in a Columbus sweater, while Cam Atkinson’s game winner was his 200th.
From the start of the game, the jackets’ energy level was much higher than on Tuesday. How could it get lower right? It’s funny because as much as we discuss whether they should play more offensively or defensively, the fact that if they just play hard and physically they will get more pressure in both zones and be able to score so much how to prevent goals.
On the flip side, they had stretches of the ice backing towards Dallas every period, and that meant the jackets needed every insurance target they tackled.
I’ll be saving the Jackets goals towards the end to cheer you up, but first I want to say a quick word about what is sure to be a hot topic of discussion here until the next game:
It’s been a point of frustration all season, but tonight was especially blatant. Here are the top five players by CF% of all situations and their total time on hold:
Dean Kukan, 66.67%, 13:58 (Least Used Defender)
Cam Atkinson, 59.38%, 18:40 (most used forward. Yay, Cam!)
Zach Werenski, 56.10%, 10:12 pm (second most frequent defender)
Jack Roslovic, 52.00%, 14:49 (fifth-lowest striker)
Oliver BJORKSTRAND, 50.00%, 13:30 (fourth-lowest striker. Wait, what?)
Seriously: what ?? The maestro is the team’s top scorer and gets minutes in the third row? It should also be noted that the top 5 includes three of the four goalscorers and Roslovic and BJORKSTRAND were the two multi-point jackets tonight.
Let’s look at the bottom five players by CF%:
David Savard, 18.75%, 18:34 (third most defender)
Vladislav Gavrikov, 20.00%, 17:52 (fifth most defender)
Boone Jenner, 23.53%, 18:33 (second most frequent striker)
Nick Foligno, 24.14%, 16:19 (sixth most striker)
Mikko Koivu, 25.81%, 15:04 (7th most striker)
None of the five were on hold for a BC door and all allowed at least one. They were the only line and the only couple that weren’t on hold for a Columbus goal. Savard, Gavrikov and Jenner were each two goals on hold. (Riley Nash was also on hold for two goals and was the sixth worst CF%. But he was the third lowest striker.) These three coaches have the confidence to play tough defensive minutes, but the evidence so far this year doesn’t suggest that they deserve the trust.
Sure, CF% is not a perfect or comprehensive metric. Not many are going to look good if the total squad was only 37.86% for the game in all situations. But even on average, those five look bad. That 18.75% for Savard is miserable.
Even if these guys prevent goals at key levels – Foligno had an excellent PK shift and Koivu and Nash were part of a last-minute 4v6 kill that kept the lead – that’s just one way the other team could get to stop. It’s also one that is unsustainable over long distances. The other way is to own the puck yourself and create scoring opportunities that bury the other team in their own zone, forcing them to change their approach.
BJORKSTRAND was the best all-round striker all season. He should never have less than the best 6 minutes. Give him energetic linemates and let him cook. Roslovic has shown his speed and hectic pace in every game since his arrival. I don’t know if he’s a long-term answer as a 2C, but he’s certainly at least the second best center currently on the roster.
Poor Eric Robinson is always in the right place at the right time, even if he doesn’t have the right hands. What else does he have to do to get a chance in the top 6? Sure, there is no guarantee that its underlying statistics will stay the same with more minutes. You might suffer with more fatigue or against tougher competition. But it’s worth a try as we know the tough minutes given to a Jenner or Foligno don’t go well. Why not help them by keeping them fresher by splitting up their shifts and using them against weaker competition?
Okay enough sluts. Let’s get to the good things. At the start of the game, everything was Columbus, with each line of strikers dominating possession. Werenski made a nice outlet pass to Mikhail Grigorenko. Grigs made a handover to BJORKSTRAND in the offensive zone, and Ollie ran around the Dallas net with the puck. It didn’t have a big angle, but it shot away anyway and somehow the puck found space between Anton Khudobin and the near post. Shooters shoot, and sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
The ice then tilted to the stars, but the jackets were able to add one more score before the end of the period. The game started again with Werenski, who regained his own rebound and ran back behind the net. He made a nice pass to Robinson who quickly tapped it on Roslovic in the slot and the local kid did the rest. Rad, Snipe, Celly.
Hey, do you remember me saying that shooters shoot and it’s better to be lucky than good? Yeah, so here’s what Patrik Laine did to widen the jacket lead to two in the second period:
I’m still not sure how that went. Whatever.
From then on, things went downhill as a Columbus power game involved too much passing and too little skating or shooting. It seemed like the players just wanted to start Laine instead of playing themselves. In the meantime, Blake Comeau was without a cane, but kept shading Laine all the time so that he couldn’t get a clean look. There were two solid minutes of possession for the unit, but Laine was stranded on ice for a two and a half minute shift. Dallas got a scoring chance from Alexander Radulov as he came out of the box and on the other end Laine got his bag from Jason Dickinson, who scored an assist from Radulov. Overall, Dallas had nine attempts to shoot in the final 2:46 of the post-power game period and Columbus had none.
They knew the Jackets 3-2 lead wasn’t going to last the last 20 minutes so it was good that they had an insurance goal. Jack Roslovic won an offensive zone faceoff in which BJORKSTRAND retrieved the puck and ran it around the right circle. He fired the puck at the crease, where a kneeling Atkinson tucked it between Khudobin’s legs.
It’s been a tough season for # 13 but he had his best game tonight and it’s good to see he’s been rewarded for it. I thought his game could get underway when paired with one of the newcomers. I was just wrong which former jet it would be. Roslovic and Atkinson were a good pairing tonight and I hope they’ll stick together a little longer to build chemistry.
Dallas got one back because of course they did, but the jackets ended up doing just enough to hold on.
The jackets now have a rare two-day break. Hopefully they use this time to do some much-needed exercise. Then they host the Carolina Hurricanes in a back to back on Sunday afternoon and Monday evening. After these games, they played twice against each of their seven division opponents. So far the jackets are 2-1-3 in their streak (took 3 of 4 from Detroit and Tampa, swept from Nashville and shared with Florida, Chicago and Dallas).