After falling into a 1-0 hole, the Blue Jackets scored early and often on the way to a 6-2 victory over the New York Rangers in the opening game of round robin play at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
Trey Fix-Wolansky scored twice for the Blue Jackets, while the team also got goals from Alexandre Texier, Egor Sokolov, Maxime Fortier and Nikita Korostelev, who had a three-point game. Elvis Merzlikins added 29 saves in his North American debut in a Blue Jackets sweater.
Video: Blue Jackets open tourney with 6-2 romp over Rangers
The first big stop of the game was made by Merzlikins, who acrobatically denied a breakaway by the Rangers' Lewis Zerter-Gossage about five minutes into the game.
Columbus had some early chances as well before New York got the goal scoring started at 14:40. Brett Kemp fired from a sharp angle low on the left and the puck went in off Merzlikins' body.
But Columbus answered with three goals in the last 3:31 of the period. First, Texier scored a tap-in, as Korostelev fed him on a 2-on-1 and he easily slid it past Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin, who spent last year in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg.
It was 2-1 just 54 seconds later, as Matt Bergeron fed free-agent invitee Sokolov speeding in on the right side after a Rangers turnover, and Sokolov did the rest by beating Shesterkin far side from the circle.
Fortier completed the scoring outburst in the period with just 18.0 seconds left on a similar play, as the CBJ signee came in on a 2-on-1 after a shot block by Korostelev and fired short side past the Rangers goalie.
The goals came fast and furious for Fix-Wolansky early in the second as he scored twice in the opening 1:35 to make it 5-1. First, on a bit of a broken play, he found the puck alone in front and buried a shot quickly past the helpless Shesterkin just 17 seconds into the period. Then he beat the NYR goalie over the glove on a breakaway at 1:35.
Columbus made it 6-1 on the power play at 11:14, as Korostelev intercepted a clearing attempt, skated in alone and scored. And the score stayed that way thanks to a spectacular save by Merzlikins with 1:54 left in the period, as a nice passing play left Patrick Newell wide open in the slot but the CBJ goalie made a lunging glove save to deny the Rangers forward.
New York drew one back in the third period as Kemp beat Merzlikins to the glove 4:03 into the third, but the CBJ goalie responded with a big stop on Anthony Salinitri later to finish off the win.
By the Numbers
Columbus had a 32-31 edge in shots. … Columbus was 1 for 3 on the power play and stopped all four Rangers man-advantage tries. … Texier had a goal and an assist. ... The Blue Jackets are the defending champions of the event and have won a tournament-record five champioships in Traverse City.
- Fix-Wolansky showed off his goal-scoring prowess with the tallies in sharp succession early in the second. Shesterkin was left with no chance on either, and Fix-Wolansky had to have been frustrated -- or perhps inspired -- by an early miss where he intercepted a clearing pass and had the entire slot to drive down before firing wide. There's no doubt the seventh-round draft pick in 2018 who made his pro debut late last season has a nose for the net.
- Merzlikins is certainly an athlete, and that phenomenal quickness and raw ability might be the first thing you notice about him. He also has a fair bit of derring-do about him, as a demonstrated by lunging poke check that knocked the puck clear out of the zone with the CBJ on the penalty kill in the second. That play drew oohs and aahs, but it was nothing compared to the glove save on Newell, which was absolutely spectacular. Merzlikins is still adjusting -- he could be seen working on sealing the post during stoppages in play after Kemp's early goal, and he admitted he didn't see many of those types of sharp-angle shots in Europe -- but the tools are obvious.
- The puck seemed to follow Korostelev around, as the Russian 22-year-old who spent most of last year with the Monsters finished with a 1-2-3 line. He also had some key defensive plays and looked like his year in Cleveland, his first full pro season, helped round out his game. Korostelev had a 3-10-13 line in 31 games with the Monsters last year.
- Texier played center in the game, flanked by Fix-Wolansky and Swedish 26-year-old CBJ signee Jakob Lilja on the top line. Texier played wing exclusively in his cameo with the Jackets last year but grew up as a pivot, and his versatility could give the Jackets options there.
They Said It
Head coach Mike Eaves, coach of the Cleveland Monsters: "It's fun for the boys. It's fun because everybody is competitive and when you do something, you want to win whether it's tiddly winks with your mom or playing in a game that's the first one of a four in five. I'm happy for the boys. In the one practice that we had, we implemented a couple of things, we planted a few seeds and that's where we held them accountable tonight. For the most part, they did some good things. Plus we made good shots. We did not teach them that. That's their gift."
Merzlikins: "Of course I'm happy because we won and it was my first - not NHL game, but first NHL game. It's a different feeling putting the NHL jersey on. I got a little bit nervous. I'm human, so that's normal. I'm not happy about my two goals, but it's good that happened. I have a lot of questions for (goaltending coach) Manny Legace. I'm looking forward to seeing Manny tomorrow and talking to him and watch some video and learn. In all, it was a really good game I think."
The Blue Jackets play their second of three round robin games Saturday at 6:30 p.m. vs. Minnesota.