If you watched the Blue Jackets' start in Los Angeles, you'd have been worried.
And if you did the same in Anaheim, yeah...still worried.
San Jose, Vegas? Gulp.
As it turns out, the Blue Jackets collected six of eight possible points on the road trip and head home to Columbus squarely in the playoff conversation. They're 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and tied on points (52) with Philadelphia for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Here are tonight's three things.
Sweet Music For Elvis
The Blue Jackets were back on their heels a lot in this game, but they managed to hold steady and didn't break down. Elvis Merzlikins was outstanding, and he deservedly earned the first shutout of his NHL career–and in the bigger picture, he's won five of his first seven starts since Joonas Korpisalo went down with an injury. Both losses were against the Sharks, who incidentally have handed Columbus its only two regulation losses in the last 16 games.
His post-win celebration was pretty sweet, too.
Super Special Teams
You're playing with fire giving any team too many power play opportunities, but that's especially true against the Golden Knights–who love to get their building involved early and build momentum. The Blue Jackets took some sloppy penalties but killed off each of Vegas' three chances, and it seemed to slow the Golden Knights and quell some of their energy.
The Blue Jackets drew first blood with a wicked one-timer from Emil Bemstrom, a power play goal that helped Columbus settle in after a rocky start. This was the goal we want to see this kid score: from the left circle, off a one-touch pass from Seth Jones, and absolutely letting it fly. What a shot.
And at the other end, a spotless effort from the penalty kill was big for the Blue Jackets, who had every opportunity to let this game slip out of their grasp. But as has been the case a lot lately, that penalty kill was stout. They're quick on pucks and aggressive in capitalizing on uncertainty or mistakes from the opposition, and when they hop over the boards to kill a penalty, you can see their mentality manifest: it's not about sitting back and letting things happen. It's about dictating. A lot of credit goes to assistant coach Brad Shaw, who has handled the PK since joining the Blue Jackets.
The last thing the Blue Jackets wanted to happen after that energetic New Year's Eve win at Nationwide Arena was to completely lay an egg out west. There were some traps laid in front of them with teams lower in the standings, and while they had a couple of scares here and there, Columbus really impressed over the last week.
Now they should start to get some key players back in the lineup, and it's only a matter of time before Cam Atkinson and Andrew Peeke are available. Both players have been skating with the team and are close to returning, and they'll be joining a team that is brimming with confidence after polishing off exactly the type of road trip they needed.