After a much discussed 0-3 start, the Blue Jackets started slowly on Tuesday night before storming back in the second and third period to tie the game. Eventually, Vladislav Gavrikov potted the OT winner against a tired Vancouver Canucks squad, and the Jackets sealed their first win of the season by a 4-3 margin. Here’s what we learned.
Nick Blankenburg belongs on this team. Not in the press box, or buried behind guys who are bigger … or at least, who have bigger contracts. He belongs on the ice. For the second time in his brief career, he started out playing a depth role and worked his way all the way onto the top pairing. Last night it took less than 40 minutes. He was all over the ice in a good way, throwing massive hits, blocking shots – and even creating offense.
This brings up two questions: why wasn’t he in the lineup sooner? And, what does this mean for a guy like Adam Boqvist or Jake Bean? We’ll probably never know the answer to the first question, but it probably involves bringing up the second question.
We’re looking at two talented, young, recent first round pick defensemen; both of whom are signed to pretty big contracts and are considered part of the future here. But things haven’t worked out, and there’s something to be said about what Blankenburg brings to the table: heart and effort.
It’s never too late to admit a mistake, and keeping Blankenburg out of the lineup in favor of both of these guys while the team struggled, sure looks like a mistake. Boqvist sat out, and Bean played just 7 shifts after the first period. Blankenburg was the best player on the ice for either team last night; whether or not that’s sustainable will be seen, but for the time being, he has to be in.
Johnny Gaudreau dazzled Nationwide Arena for the first time with a highlight reel goal to knot the game at 3, late in the third period. This is what we’ve been waiting for. We have seen him wind up a few times in each game and get his motor turning, but this is the first time he’s been able to cash in. More please.
It’s important to point out Yegor Chinakhov’s play last night as well. He was all over the ice and looked every bit the part of a top-six, two-way winger. He drew two assists, including a terrific feed on the overtime winner. If he keeps playing that way, the goals will certainly come in bunches.
The rest of the team was okay for the final 40 minutes an overtime, but that first 20 minutes can’t be the norm here. They still looked disjointed, especially defensively, and were pretty well out of the game until their energy guys stepped up (notably, Blankenburg and Mathieu Olivier), which finally swung some momentum their way. Once they had it, they never looked back, even bouncing back quickly from a late Canucks goal to tie it up.
It will be important to build on the result and use it as fuel, as the schedule doesn’t get any easier moving forward. The Jackets will host Nashville on Thursday, Pittsburgh on Saturday, and travel to New York to face the Rangers on Sunday. Finding secondary scoring and continuing to improve defensively, are the keys to keeping pace with high end teams such as these.
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