It's déjà vu all over again for the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was only a week ago that we broke down the film on three turnovers that led directly to goals in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Alas, the Blue Jackets suffered a similar (albeit more humiliating) defeat to the same Hurricanes on Monday evening in a 7-3 loss.
The staunch defensive zone play that has been a hallmark of Blue Jackets' hockey for the past few seasons seems to have fallen by the wayside this season, as players we've grown accustomed to being strong defenders and effective puck movers have regressed in every facet of their games. Here are three plays - a turnover, a poor positioning read, and a lost battle - that (unfortunately) defined the Blue Jackets' loss to their divisional foes.
PLAY #1: DEL ZOTTO TURNOVER
The play begins with the Blue Jackets conceding the red line, with all five players 10 feet (in either direction) from the blue line. The Hurricanes decided not to force the issue, instead electing to rim the puck and hope to cause a turnover. Enter Michael Del Zotto, who correctly reads he will be first to touch the puck. He does a nice job of shoulder checking to the middle of the ice, seeing what available options he may have.
Here's What Should Have Happened: As a lefty on the left side, he was collecting the puck on his backhand. The prudent play in hindsight would have been a "bump back", basically drawing in the forecheck before pushing the puck back where it came from on the wall behind the net, which would have allowed his defense partner, Andrew Peeke, time to collect.
Here's What Happened: Instead, he tries to collect and turn up ice at the same time, which is difficult to do from a standstill. By this point, three Hurricanes forecheckers are in on the action, and Del Zotto is unable to get the puck off the wall and past Sebastian Aho (#20). Alexandre Texier, the center, is caught too high, as both he and Del Zotto are now on the wrong side of Teuvo Teravainen, the recipient of Aho's puck win. Peeke, respecting the fact that Teravainen has room to go to the net, fails to tie up the stick of Brock McGinn, and a slick Teravainen pass finds him for the easy tap-in back door.
PLAY #2: KUKAN, STENLUND MIX UP COVERAGE
Seconds later, and it's more of the same from the Hurricanes, who are essentially betting (successfully, I'd add) that the Blue Jackets will fail to get the puck out of their zone cleanly. The same Hurricane's line is on the ice, but a new cast and crew of Blue Jackets
defenders players are on the ice.
The best players in the world are adept at playing 1-on-2. They not only accept the challenges of playing at a disadvantage, but they also invite it, knowing that it means a numerical advantage should they be able to make a play to a teammate. Aho is one of these players, and he takes full advantage of Dean Kukan and Kevin Stenlund.
Here's What Happened: At 0:05, you'll see Aho has brought both Kukan (defenseman) and Stenlund (center) high in the zone. And while his pass to Jake Gardiner isn't a dangerous pass, it's brought them out of their comfort zone. It's at this exact moment that Teravainen (the eventual goal scorer) cuts past Stenlund/Kukan into the dangerous ice. Gardiner threads a pass to McGinn, which is well defended by Savard, but the puck is sitting in the slot for the next available customer. Because Kukan and Stenlund were challenging Aho high in the zone, they're far from their home base, and Teravainen picks up the loose puck. The rest is history.
Here's What Should Have Happened: One of - but not both - Stenlund and Kukan can go up the wall and press Aho, ideally handing him off to a winger. The other needs to stay home.
PLAY #3: SAVARD, ROSLOVIC LOSE PUCK BATTLE
Perhaps no Blue Jacket struggled more in this game than David Savard, who was earlier bailed out on a fractionally offsides goal after a blatant turnover. But it's his battle in the corner that frustrated.
The Hurricanes execute a deceptive 2-on-2 play where they make it difficult for Savard and Patrik Laine to sort out coverage assignments. In vintage Savard fashion, he blocks the Andrei Svechnikov puck and the puck goes to the corner.
Here's What Happened: After a game of hot potato, a four-player scrum forms in the corner, with Savard and Jack Roslovic battling with Aho and Teravainen, two players that Savard should be able to handle in the corner. Savard, perhaps afraid to be too far north of the play (see Play #2), allowed Svechnikov to exit the scrum with possession of the puck. All the while, Roslovic has one hand on his stick as a fallen Aho precludes him from making a puck play. A second later, the puck goes low to high before a shot is redirected for the sixth goal of the game.
Here's What Should Have Happened: Down two goals in the third period, you'd like to see Savard come up with the puck in this battle. He's not fleet of foot, nor is he a great outlet passer. His competitive advantage has been his ability to be difficult to play against and win 50/50 pucks in the corner. Just not on this day.