Jackets Find a Way Against the Ducks

COLUMBUS, OHIO - JANUARY 19: Max Jones #49 of the Anaheim Ducks celebrates his goal with Isac Lundestrom #21 and Dmitry Kulikov #29 during the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on January 19, 2023 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OHIO - JANUARY 19: Max Jones #49 of the Anaheim Ducks celebrates his goal with Isac Lundestrom #21 and Dmitry Kulikov #29 during the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on January 19, 2023 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /
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Just when you think you’ve seen the worst loss of the season, the Jackets find a way against the Ducks. After taking a controlling 3-0 lead in the first period, the Jackets sat back and watched the only statistically worse team in the NHL rattle off 5 unanswered goals, losing the first leg of the NHL Tank Bowl.

All of the build up we made yesterday about the Jackets playing as the superior team for once, was for naught. And it’s too bad; they actually came out playing pretty well, though admittedly a big part of their 3-0 lead was that Anaheim’s terrible defense was living up to its reputation. Anthony Stolarz wasn’t stopping very many pucks either, so it’s possible that this dominant period was just a mirage all along.

Mathieu Olivier kicked things off with a beautiful snipe, beating Stolarz high blocker side on a 2-on-1 rush to make it 1-0 for the Jackets, just 2:17 in. The Jackets were buzzing for much of the period, and Jack Roslovic took advantage of an errant pass to make it a 2-0 game less than 4 minutes later. Nick Blankenburg joined the snipe show with less than 3 minutes left, giving the Jackets a 3-0 lead that they would take into the intermission:

For once, it really seemed like the Jackets were the team taking advantage of a team’s defensive zone ineptitude and weak goaltending. But the Ducks nixed all of that, replacing Stolarz with John Gibson to start the second. As often is the case, the new goaltender sparked the team and they came out quickly, with Adam Henrique scoring just 22 seconds into the period.

Cam Fowler (13:07) and Simon Benoit (15:02) scored just under two minutes apart later in the period, and just like that the game was tied. The Jackets, after being so dominant in the first, seemed to be following the game at this point, unable to match the compete level of the Ducks through the middle period.

COLUMBUS, OHIO – JANUARY 19: Cam Fowler #4 of the Anaheim Ducks celebrates his goal during the second period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on January 19, 2023 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OHIO – JANUARY 19: Cam Fowler #4 of the Anaheim Ducks celebrates his goal during the second period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on January 19, 2023 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

These things will happen with a young team; the key is that they need to make adjustments in the intermission, much like the Ducks did after the first period. But the Jackets did not adjust – or, at least, they did not make enough of an adjustment. Trevor Zegras would find the eventual game winner during an embarrassing defensive zone shift by the Jackets, just 5 minutes into the period:

While I will agree that Elvis should make that save because it hit his glove, pay attention to two players on that play: #16 for the Ducks (Ryan Strome), and #38 for the Jackets (Boone Jenner). They provide a double screen, and I don’t think Elvis saw this one until the very last second. It’s hard to blame the goaltender when the team is giving him this kind of defensive effort (notice all of the standing around).

Max Jones put the game out of reach 10 minutes later, after Elvis made a dazzling save on a cross-ice feed. The puck sits just outside of the crease for what seemed like an eternity – with no Jackets in the vicinity to clear – giving him an easy finish to close out the scoring. Again, look at the defensive coverage and effort here. Everyone is behind the play, then over-skates their assignment, leaving the Ducks with two separate odd-man chances here.

These are simple adjustments that should be made throughout the games and season, but we aren’t seeing any growth with the defense of this team. Whether that’s due to the personnel or the coaching (or some combination of both), things just aren’t working for this team in their own end.

With the loss, the Jackets now own sole possession of last place in the NHL. Their 13-30-2 (28pts) record is good for a league-worst .311 win percentage, and they are the only team in the league who has not yet met the 30 point plateau. To top it off, they’ve played two more games than the team ahead of them (Chicago).

COLUMBUS, OHIO – JANUARY 19: Elvis Merzlikins #90 of the Columbus Blue Jackets stands in the net during introductions before the first period against the Anaheim Ducks at Nationwide Arena on January 19, 2023 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OHIO – JANUARY 19: Elvis Merzlikins #90 of the Columbus Blue Jackets stands in the net during introductions before the first period against the Anaheim Ducks at Nationwide Arena on January 19, 2023 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

The Jackets are now on pace for the worst season in the history of the franchise: 51 points. And the schedule doesn’t get any easier from here, with 22 of their remaining 37 games being on the road. Next up, they’ll host San Jose at Nationwide tomorrow night, before taking off for the Western Canada trip next week.

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