EDMONTON – The Blue Jackets were fortunate to get away with a poor start tonight, but before too long, it caught up with them in a big way.
Columbus carried a 1-0 lead into the first intermission but it came unraveled in the second, as their puck management fed into the Oilers’ speed and attacking game. Edmonton scored four times in the second period to pull away, sending the Blue Jackets to a 5-1 loss in the first game of a three-game road trip.
Rookie goaltender Joonas Korpisalo was absolutely under siege in the opening minutes and it felt like pre-game warmups at times. The Oilers, who welcomed Connor McDavid back after a three-month absence (more on him to follow), were energized and skating right from the outset and had 14 shots in the first 12 minutes.
If not for the kid between the pipes, it could have been a rout before the period was halfway over.
But the Blue Jackets got their legs later in the period and took advantage of an Oilers mistake that came seconds after they nearly scored themselves. Korpisalo made a great right-arm save on Adam Clendening at one end, and a turnover led Scott Hartnell and Matt Calvert the other way on a 2-on-1 break.
Hartnell’s pass was on the money to Calvert, who beat Cam Talbot inside the near post at 11:37 of the first. And despite 18 first-period shots, the Oilers were thwarted by Korpisalo, but the hockey gods were kinder to them in the middle frame.
“Obviously, our first period wasn’t good. We couldn’t find ourselves,” coach John Tortorella said. “They got going (in the first period) and we couldn’t keep up. We were fortunate to be up 1-0.”
Eric Gryba’s first goal in 138 games (not a misprint) got the Oilers on the board with a floating wrist shot that eluded Korpisalo three minutes into the second. There was a bit of traffic but it appeared as though Korpisalo never got a good read on the puck as it came off Gryba’s stick, and it was a 1-1 game.
Goals from McDavid, Benoit Pouliot and Leon Draisaitl – the latter two coming only 29 seconds apart – broke it open for Edmonton in a seven-minute span.
McDavid’s was the attention-getter, no doubt, splitting the Blue Jackets’ defense and walking in on Korpisalo with three dekes and a deft finish, giving the Oilers a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.
Jordan Eberle added a power play goal in the third period to make it a 5-1 final, only after Korpisalo made two point-blank, highlight-reel saves on Pouliot and McDavid. McDavid tracked the puck down, fed Eberle on the opposite post and it was a virtual tap-in.
Despite playing what he thought was a better second period than what happened in the first, Tortorella said the Blue Jackets’ mistakes were the story.
“We had a couple of major breakdowns they score,” Tortorella said. “After the first period, they gained momentum right away and we just couldn’t catch up to them. In the second and third period, we developed some offense, but made a couple of key mistakes and they capitalized. Game over.”