The Jackets dropped their second in a row on Thursday night, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning by a 4-1 margin. While the results weren’t what they hoped for, the team played a pretty solid game against an experienced, deep team. These are the kinds of results we can expect from a young roster, but there are positive things to take away.
This was not the kind of game we should be disappointed in from this team. The Lightning are the class of the league – they won back-to-back Cups, and were just two wins away from taking their third in a row last season. We can’t expect the last place Jackets to roll into Tampa Bay and win games consistently.
But it is fair to expect this team to show up and at least compete. They did that last night – they were outshot just 29-25 overall, and the game was tied entering the third period. Daniil Tarasov was stellar in goal and gave them a chance to win. But some untimely mistakes in the third period cost them; and the Lightning did what they do best: taking advantage and winning the game.
The story of the game was pretty simple, when you look back at the tapes. The Jackets were beaten by the veterans at the top of the Tampa Bay lineup. Brayden Point scored the game-winning goal on a broken play, and Nikita Kucherov potted 3 assists for the Bolts. Brandon Hagel scored twice, and Brian Elliott was strong in goal when he had to be.
The Gaudreau-Jenner-Nyquist top line for the Blue Jackets was victimized for three of the four goals against, which shows you that they were simply out-matched head-to-head. This is going to happen to your top line on some nights. Unfortunately, the second line struggled as well, unable to generate much in the offensive zone.
What is encouraging however, was the play of the team’s third line – the “kid line,” if you will. Kent Johnson (19), Cole Sillinger (19) and Kirill Marchenko (22) are three of the youngest forwards on the team, but they carried the bag offensively last night. Nearly every shift saw them pinning the Lightning into their defensive zone for stretches of time; and Marchenko even scored the team’s lone goal last night.
Their goal didn’t come in garbage time or against secondary competition. They generated a nice play off the rush, confused the defense, and scored against the Steven Stamkos line last night – tying the game in the second period.
Lately the team has been all doom and gloom, sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and giving us little hope for the season ahead. But this line is starting to grow together, and the three are showing signs of chemistry. While they’re going to have tough games or miss assignments here and there, this is encouraging because if you look at the makeup of this team and the whole organization: this could be one of our top two lines for many years to come.
It’s also encouraging that the lines were left alone last night and the team was able to carry its mojo through the third period, even when the Lightning pulled ahead. Now, if we could just get Lars to put this line on the ice more consistently – especially when they’re playing so well.
The best teams in the NHL are not one line teams. The elite teams in the NHL aren’t even two line teams. Teams like Tampa Bay can roll all four of their lines without concern, and have at least three lines that can put the puck in the net. Last night was the first time we’ve really seen the “kid line” play at such a high level.
Now, the key is building consistently off of that, and bringing it even when the top two lines are going. If they can all get rolling, this is a dangerous team offensively. Which at least gives us hope for the future.