It was far from pretty, but the Blue Jackets will certainly take it.
Columbus held on for a 4-3 shootout victory, their second consecutive win over the Florida Panthers and eighth win of the season. They got there thanks in large part to a hot start offensively, followed by one of the best goaltending performances in franchise history from Sergei Bobrovsky, his 52 stops in the contest being the most ever by a Blue Jackets goaltender. With the Jackets gutting their way to a 2-0-0 start to December, here are a few things we learned...
It’s no secret that the first quarter of the season has not been what Bobrovsky was hoping for entering the year. He missed the first half of November with a broken finger and has struggled to regain top form since his return while still playing through some discomfort. Coming into the game Thursday, he had allowed three goals or more in six of his last seven appearances.
As the Blue Jackets struggled in a second period in which they were out-shot 19-3, one might have worried if Bobrovsky would come undone as well. Bobrovsky surrendered three goals in under eight minutes and two off the stick of Nick Bjugstad, one a backhand dribbler through the legs and another a sharp-angled wrister with Bjugstad nearly behind the goal line. But with Monday’s win a tribute to the Jackets' perseverance as a team, Thursday night was the game-changing ability of Bobrovsky on full display.
“He stole this one, without a question,” said head coach Todd Richards. “He was tremendous in this game and he’s the only reason we got two points.”
Stuck in Neutral
So, about that second period…
After an outstanding start to the first period that flipped the script on Monday’s opening frame, it was quite the reversal for Columbus in the second period. They outshot the Panthers 6-0 in the first five minutes of the game, jumped on the board early with Nick Foligno’s opening goal, and used their vertical speed game (and a coverage misread by defenseman Dylan Olsen) to pad the lead with Cam Atkinson’s breakaway goal. By the end of the first, the Panthers had controlled the puck for two-thirds of the period. But with the Blue Jackets contesting the red line and challenging in the neutral zone, the Panthers shots were relatively innocent.
In the second period, that neutral zone presence was lacking, the four penalties taken by the Blue Jackets being a major reason. The Panthers’ zone entries were much cleaner, their in-zone possession time extended, and the Blue Jackets’ ability to breakout cleanly was diminished.
On Bjugstad’s first goal, the Blue Jackets failed to get the puck deep in the Panthers zone, allowing a quick transition. Both Foligno and Scott Hartnell missed the trailer Bjugstad, as Tomas Fleischmann was allowed free entry at the blue line, and then beat Jack Johnson down the boards. The resulting pass through the slot found Bjugstad, who found the net.
The Panthers average a 29.7 shots per game (19th in NHL) and a 53.3 Corsi attempts per 60 minutes (21st). By the end of regulation, the Jackets surrendered 51 shots and 94 attempts. The Jackets neutral zone play, and the ensuing defensive-zone havoc nearly cost the Jackets two points.
Hey Now! Rychel, Rychel All Day!
The Jackets have dressed their fair share of rookies this season, but Kerby Rychel is proving a solid fit with Boone Jenner. The former junior rivals are clicking in the offensive zone, with Jenner scoring in two straight and Rychel with three points in three games (two assists Thursday). The key has been simplicity.
Twice, Jenner has been right on the doorstep to finish off rebounds from Rychel shots. In all aspects of the game, Rychel has made sound decisions, not so much looking for finesse plays as he is putting the puck in areas of the ice where teammates will have an opportunity to make something happen (his bouncing chip to the neutral zone for Atkinson’s breakaway also an example).
Rookies are always learning and Rychel still has plenty to absorb. But sometimes the best thing for a rookie to do is to stop thinking and just play. Rychel’s offensive game to this point has been instinctive, responsive, and is matching Jenner’s direct, aggressive style very well.