The Jackets faced a tough challenge on Tuesday night, skating into Tampa Bay with a depleted roster. While the outcome of this game was probably decided before the puck even dropped, the decisions made last night in regards to ice time were questionable, and likely made this more of a blowout than it needed to be.
The Lightning struck early in this one, taking a 1-0 lead just 1:40 into the game. Jack Roslovic made a nice play to intercept the puck high in the defensive zone, then promptly turned the puck over at the far blueline. This led to a Tampa Bay rush the other way – which looked under control – except Roslovic missed his assignment, leaving Kucherov all alone in front of Elvis Merzlikins. He deflected in a point shot for an easy goal.
The Bolts led 2-0 after the first period, but it was a period in which they dominated, outshooting the Jackets by a 21-6 margin. Elvis was terrific and kept the game closer than the Jackets probably deserved, before Gavin Bayreuther narrowed the margin to 2-1 with a nice point shot at the 7:04 mark of the second.
The Jackets fought hard in the second and the game seemed to be coming within grasp, until Vladislav Namestnikov beat Elvis on a breakaway 10:25 through the period, extending the Lightning lead back to 2 goals; and they would take that 3-1 lead into the second intermission. The shots were much closer in the second period, just a 12-7 advantage for the Lightning.
The third period started off fairly well, as the Jackets were buzzing around the ice and creating chances on Andrei Vasilevskiy. Eventually Tim Berni struck for his first NHL goal, coming at the 4:35 mark of the period, and we had ourselves a hockey game.
But the Lightning would put the game away just under two minutes later. Kucherov scored his second of the night, then Brayden Point and Ross Colton scored 1:26 apart later in the period, giving the Lightning a 6-2 lead. Kirill Marchenko potted a late goal for the Jackets, but it was too little, too late, and the Bolts took home an easy 6-3 win.
The team has struggled all year, but what’s confusing about a game like this, is the way the roster was managed. Roslovic had a brutal turnover and awful defensive effort on the first goal of the game; yet he saw the second most ice time amongst forwards on the team. His 2:38 on the penalty kill was more than any other forward last night.
Star forward Johnny Gaudreau played just 13:08 at even strength – including only four shifts (3:37) in the third period last night, with the team needing offense to get back into the game. It wasn’t that he wasn’t effective in those shifts, as this scorecard would indicate.
The season may be over, but that doesn’t excuse the way ice time is distributed in a game like this. How is it that Roslovic is rolled out consistently in spite of his glaring mistakes and lack of D zone IQ; while Gaudreau gets shifted out of the lineup despite being the team’s leading scorer and only All-Star? Meanwhile, Liam Foudy, yet to score through 51 career NHL games, led all Blue Jacket forwards in third period ice time (6:35) last night.
It was odd, to say the least, and all we can hope is that this isn’t some new trend with this team. The only thing we have to look forward to on some nights is an offensive outburst from one of the talented players. We aren’t going to see that if the team is led in ice time consistently by its fourth line.