Final Minute Of Game 1 Speaks Volumes About Which Players Blue Jackets Coaching Staff Trusts

By Dan Dukart on August 4, 2020 at 1:05 pm
Vladislav Gavrikov keeps the puck out harm's way
Andre Ringuette-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets led the NHL with 20 one-goal victories during the regular season. 

Clearly, they know how to win tight games.

So, who closes out these tight games? Seth Jones? Zach Werenski? Riley Nash? Boone Jenner? Not quite. Tortorella deployed his stalwart second-pairing of David Savard and Vladislav Gavrikov to shut the door on the Toronto Maple Leafs.  

That, alongside a makeshift line of Alexander Wennberg centering Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno, fit the bill in Game 1. Even with one of the youngest rosters in the NHL, Tortorella found just enough veterans that he felt comfortable playing at the end of a tight game. 

It speaks volumes that Savard and Gavrikov get the nod over the top pair. Savard was among the top shot-blockers in the NHL, and Gavrikov is an incredibly effective shutdown defenseman in his own right. Jones and Werenski heavily tilted the ice in their favor in Game 1, proving themselves as one of the top pairs in the NHL. Still, the coaching staff favored a more rugged and defensive-oriented pairing. It's hard to argue with the decision.

Up front, Alexander Wennberg may have got the nod over someone like Riley Nash due to the neutral zone faceoff being on Wennberg's strong side. Unfortunately, it was also on John Tavares' strong side, and the Toronto captain won the draw cleanly. It is worth noting that Wennberg won just 33% of draws in Game 1, and both Pierre-Luc Dubois (44%) and Jenner (59%) were also options on that side. Still, Wennberg has one of the more reliable sticks among Blue Jackets forwards, and it's really what's kept him in the lineup. The right call was made.

On the wings, Foligno and Atkinson are savvy veterans who can draw on a wealth of experience to make the right play. Atkinson was great at angling the Maple Leafs with strong pressure on this last shift. He also had the key chip play along the wall that led to the empty-net goal. Foligno also had a key clear just moments before that and sealed the game with a clinical area pass on the Wennberg goal.

Every hockey player wants to be on the ice to finish a game. It comes with a huge amount of responsibility, and for that reason, pride. The Blue Jackets are well-versed at playing in tight games, and as they showed throughout and at the end of Game 1, they have the right players when the game is on the line.