The Time-Balanced Attack From The Blue Jackets Defense In Tuesday's Win Should Not Go Unnoticed

By Ed Francis on March 31, 2021 at 10:15 am
Columbus had an even distribution of minutes in Tuesday's win; did it matter?
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
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Elvis Merzlikins made 37 saves and was the number one star of the night - and it was likely the best performance turned in by anyone on the roster this season.

The goalie was undoubtedly the catalyst in the Columbus Blue Jackets surprising 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Tuesday night. 

But there was something from the box score that should be acknowledged: the balanced number of minutes seen by the Blue Jackets defense, and why the 38 shots registered by the Lightning sounds much worse than it actually was.

First, the balanced defense, where the Blue Jackets ice-time leader was David Savard, who was on the ice for 22:44. Just six seconds behind him was his blue line buddy, Vladislav Gavrikov. Just a few ticks behind him was the 22:23 played by Seth Jones, with linemate Zach Werenski just five seconds behind him at 22:18. 

For just the second time this season, Savard led the Blue Jackets in time on ice. Along with Gavrikov, both played around three minutes more than their average, which is in the 19 minute range. Those three minutes came from time that would typically go to the top pairing of Werenski and Jones, who were both about three minutes under their season average in time on ice.

That duo, particularly Werenski, have seemed low on energy late in the games at times this season - but not tonight. Whether or not a more balanced attack on defense was the culprit for the late-game boost remains to be seen, but coach John Tortorella dished out defensive minutes like he had two top lines, and that could be a recipe for success. 

To give up 38 shots on goals would seemingly say otherwise, but where and when the shots came from are important here. Nearly half of Tampa Bay's shots on goal came from Victor Hedman, Luke Schenn, and Andreas Borgman - three defenseman who have combined for six goals in a combined 60 games this season. Of course, they're combined in name only, because Hedman has all six of those goals. 

Hedman alone had 10 shots in Tuesday's game, more than any other two players combined. He's a great defenseman, but a team like the Lightning do not have to rely on their defensive corps to score for them.

In fact, Tampa Bay has six players who have hit double-digit goals on the season. Of those six - Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, and Mathieu Joseph - they combined for only nine shots (1.33), an average of 1.5 shots per player. 

Merzlikins made acrobatic saves, as any goalie will typically do in a win, but a kudos to the rested Blue Jackets defense for allowing a lot of Merzlikins saves to be easy grabs from safer locations.

Limiting shot quality is more important than limiting shot quantity, and Tuesday's game was the perfect illustration of that. Work to be done, yes, but work that may pay off nicely in the near future.

Elvis Merzlikins was the star Tuesday night, but the Blue Jackets defense deserves attention as well - if only for one game.


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