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SvoNotes: Everyone does their part as Jackets race past Hurricanes

Columbus gets a comprehensive performance in a 6-0 win over Carolina

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

If there was one game that could be identified as the low point of the Blue Jackets 2021-22 season to this point, it likely happened on New Year's Day. 

The Blue Jackets built a 4-0 lead in front of a holiday crowd at Nationwide Arena against Carolina, but it wasn't enough. The Hurricanes buzzed and buzzed, getting two back in the second period and then exploding for five goals in the third, finishing with seven unanswered tallies in a 7-4 final. 

But if turnabout is fair play, the Blue Jackets got their revenge on Thursday night in Carolina. In what might have been the high point of the season so far, everything Columbus touched turned to gold in a 6-0 win against the first-place Canes that was the opposite of that game 12 days prior in just about every way. 

Columbus was simply better in this game for 60 minutes, turning in a performance in which everyone did their part. 

Twelve Columbus players had points, led by two-point evenings from Yegor Chinakhov (2-0-2), Emil Bemstrom (1-1-2), Jack Roslovic (1-1-2), Eric Robinson (0-2-2) and Jake Bean (0-2-2). The first five CBJ goals were scored by players age 23 or younger -- Bemstrom (22) and Chinakhov (20) were joined by Patrik Laine (23) and Cole Sillinger (18) -- before Roslovic's tally. Elvis Merzlikins added his second shutout of the season, and the Jackets hit just about every note necessarily to make it a blowout win in Raleigh. 

Video: Chinakhov, Merzlikins propel Blue Jackets to 6-0 win

"I don't think there's a guy I didn't really like tonight," head coach Brad Larsen said. "It started right from the first shift. We had a high compete level tonight, and we knew we had to skate. We knew what that team is all about and how dangerous and how good they are. It was a full 60. I am happy for our whole team." 

That the performance came against Carolina after what happened the previous time the teams played was not lost on the Blue Jackets. In an 82-game season, few games can really be circled because of the never-ending march of the season, but it did seem as though what happened on New Year's Day in Columbus was not far from the Jackets' minds. 

"Not only for myself but for all of us, we had a little bit of a bittersweet taste in our mouth," Sillinger said after Columbus snapped a five-game losing streak vs. Carolina. "We had a 4-0 lead in our building, and we gave that one up. We wanted to make sure we had a chance to redeem ourselves." 

It looked that way from the very beginning, too, with the Blue Jackets getting a number of golden chances in the first period as well as the only goal of the frame. Bemstrom got the team on the board at 8:43 of the first, as Alexandre Texier -- who had a great game in his return from COVID protocol -- won a puck battle and got the puck to Jake Bean for a shot from the point. Roslovic couldn't put the rebound home in front, but Bemstrom kept at it and eventually slid the puck past Frederik Andersen for his first goal of the season. 

Moments later, Merzlikins made the first of a bevy of excellent saves on the night as Carolina had two chances on an odd-man rush. Sebastian Aho got the first look, firing a cross-crease feed into the pads of Merzlikins. It looked like the trailing Ethan Bear would be able to convert the rebound, but somehow Merzlikins pushed from right to left and got his catching glove on Bear's shot. 

Video: CBJ@CAR: Merzlikins stones Aho, Bear on the rush

"The first thing I had in my mind was uh oh," said Merzlikins, who played his first game since being injured late in that first Carolina game. "It was an empty net. I saw the guy (going) full speed, and I just tried to catch it and I caught it. Obviously, it was a hard play but still I am happy that I got it." 

From there, Columbus finished the first period strong with 18 shots on goal and 2.46 expected goals on the board at 5-on-5 per Natural Stat Trick, more than all but five games on the season. But Larsen also pointed out a moment that helped the team was a scrum at the end of the first period that ended with captain Boone Jenner, Robinson and Dean Kukan standing toe-to-toe with Carolina players. 

With the team energized, Chinakhov got the only goal of the second when he scored on a breakaway, and then Columbus blew things open with three goals in a 67-second span of the third period. Laine drove home a one-timer off a feed from Jenner at 4:26, Chinakhov made an excellent move to score from in front 37 seconds after that, and Sillinger tallied on a breakaway at 5:33. 

By the time Roslovic finished the scoring with another breakaway tally with 5:34 to play, just about anything that could have gone right did go right for the Blue Jackets. 

"A lot of things were going our way, but we earned it with our work and that's what's gratifying," Larsen said. "I'm happy for them. It's great to see, they felt it. You could tell the energy level on the bench. If we can replicate that -- they're not all gonna go like that, but that kind of energy and being attached to the game emotionally is so big." 

Chinakhov's Big Night 

It was always going to be an adjustment for Chinakhov to get used to playing at the NHL level, but there's also been a fair amount of frustration that the rookie has gone through during the transition. 

Goal scorers like to score goals, and through the first 25 games of his NHL career before Thursday night, Chinakhov had exactly two. He hasn't looked out of place -- there have been some pretty bright moments for the Russian winger, and some chances that very well could have gone in that didn't -- but the production had been slow in coming. 

But he showed again on Thursday night that tantalizing talent that made him a first-round pick in the 2020 draft as well as a KHL champion a year ago. The first two-goal game of his NHL career included a pair of "fantastic" tallies as Larsen said, as first he came in on a breakaway off a feed from Vladislav Gavrikov and easily sniped a shot past Andersen to give Columbus a 2-0 lead in the second period. 

And then in the third, he struck the dagger, as a loose puck ended up on his stick as he came through the slot, and his finish was clinical. Chinakhov advanced on the goal, pulled the puck away from Andersen, went around the Carolina goalie and then flicked the puck into the open net with a lightning-quick finish to make it 4-0 and essentially end the game. 

Video: CBJ@CAR: Chinakhov makes slick move for second goal

"I've never done that before, never practiced that," Chinakhov said through interpreter Anton Poltyrev postgame. "It just happened. It looked like the goalie waited for a shot, and I made the move and it just worked out that way." 

With the big night, Chinakhov now has three goals in the last three games, and he looks like a more confident player overall. He skated more with the puck on his stick against the Hurricanes, wasn't afraid to put it on net with five shot attempts in 11:25 of action, and was part of a dominant line with Robinson and Sean Kuraly that had 87.0 of the expected goals at 5-on-5 when it was on the ice per Natural Stat Trick. 

"Of course it gives me more confidence," he said of scoring, "but I am just trying to play well, trying to do what coach wants me to do, shoot the puck and make good plays." 

During a season that has been a learning process for so many, things like the progress of the rookie forward will be how the CBJ season will be measured. And it's fair to say you can see the steps in Chinakhov's game coming together as the season goes on. 

"That second move there was really cool," Sillinger said. "The whole bench was really excited for him. … I think Chinny plays his best when he's confident with the puck and he's moving his feet, and he was doing that all night. He was making plays, he was on the hunt on the forecheck. It was good for him to get rewarded. He deserves it." 

Stats and Facts 
  • Per Natural Stat Trick, this one was no fluke. Columbus had a 3.71-2.32 edge (61.5 percent) in expected goals at 5-on-5 in the contest. 
  • Carolina essentially put up the white flag after Chinakhov's 4-0 goal, inserting rookie goalie Jack LaFontaine into the net to get his feet wet and make his NHL debut after he signed out of the University of Minnesota earlier in the week. He was greeted by Sillinger's goal on his first shot against and finished with one save on three shots.
  • Texier was impressive after missing the last four games, notching the primary assist on Roslovic's goal by setting up the breakaway and skating in 13:34 of action. He has a 9-9-18 line in the last 23 games.
  • Seventeen Jackets players finished with a plus rating, led by Gavrikov's career-best plus-4 showing. All six CBJ goals were scored at even strength.  
  • The only CBJ player not to notch a positive plus-minus on the night? Defenseman Zach Werenski, who was named an NHL All-Star earlier in the day. 
  • Speaking of the All-Star Game, CBJ forward Jakub Voracek has been named to the final vote but did not play because of COVID protocol. 
  • After making 31 saves, Merzlikins now has nine shutouts in three seasons in a CBJ uniform, good for fifth in team history. He is one behind Pascal Leclaire for fourth place. 
  • Three goals in 67 seconds is not a team record but is the second best such mark in team history. The Blue Jackets tallied thrice in a 51-second span during a 7-1 win over Pittsburgh on Dec. 22, 2016, with Scott Hartnell, Brandon Saad and Jenner doing the honors. 
  • The Blue Jackets didn't trail for just the seventh time this season and are now 14-2-0 when scoring at least four goals.   
  • Columbus allowed fewer than three goals for the first time all season on the road. The team improved to 6-11-0 away from Nationwide Arena and 4-1-1 in its last six in Raleigh. 
  • The six-goal margin of victory was the largest in series history. 
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