With 65 games to go, the Columbus Blue Jackets may already have found their winner for regular season game of the year.
Gregory Hofmann's first-period goal was enough to give the Blue Jackets their 11th win of the season, as Elvis Merzlikins posted his first shutout of the season in Columbus' 3-0 win Wednesday night over the Winnipeg Jets.
The satisfaction of the victory was amplified for a pair of reasons; the return of Pierre-Luc Dubois to Nationwide Arena, and a wild third period that saw fights, missed calls, and cheap shots from the opponent.
Here are three things from a wild evening in the Arena District:
Even though the Blue Jackets won by three, Columbus doesn't win that game without the play of Merzlikins. The 36 save performance was particularly impressive at a deep dive into the numbers. Winnipeg had an expected goal total of 3.32, of which 1.33 of them came on the Jets' three high-danger shots on goal of the night. That translate to roughly three "50-50" shots at a goal — and Merzlikins was able to stop all three. He also allowed just two shots on rebounds the entire night, a prime chance for opposing teams to light the lamp. The save was also made possible by a stingy Blue Jackets blue line, who blocked 16 shots for the game (by comparison, Winnipeg blocked five). As it always with Elvis, the post-game chat on the bench is worth a listen.
Who's On First?
Hoffman, Jack Roslovic, Max Domi.
Gustav Nyquist, Boone Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Eric Robinson, Sean Kuraly, Alexandre Texier.
Yegor Chinakhov, Cole Sillinger, Jakub Voracek.
The way this team is playing right now, they don't have "a" first line — they have four. Head coach Brad Larsen realizes it too; last night's leading forward in minutes was Jenner's 18:24, and Hofmann's 11:29 was the fewest. In Wednesday's win, only the Nyquist-Jenner-Bjorkstrand line was left off the scoresheet, but they were the trio with the second highest expected goals total, trailing only the Chinakhov-Sillinger-Voracek pairing. The balance on this team has been a huge reason for their early-season success, and will be a big part of it moving forward.
Max Domi Is A Treasure*
*Opinion may differ outside of Columbus, Ohio.
Domi has been the spark for the Blue Jackets this year, despite playing in less than half of the teams 17 games. Domi has two goals in his seven games with the team, and added his sixth assist of the season in Wednesday's victory to keep pace with his more-than-point-a-game average. He also got Evgeny Svechnikov so riled up — rightly so, for what it's worth — that the Winnipeg depth forward almost talked his way into a second beat-em-down.
Minutes later, Hofmann would take a stick to the face from Jets defenseman Logan Stanley, and immediately go to the ice in pain. Nationwide Arena cameras showed blood on the ice, but no call was made. Just moments later, Domi would go to the box for roughing on a play that involved very little roughing. What should have been a double minor to give Columbus four minutes of power play time turned into two minutes of a Winnipeg man-advantage in a 1-0 game.
Columbus would kill the penalty, and moments later Zach Werenski beat Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck on his glove side to give the Blue Jackets a 2-0 cushion.
After an Andrew Peeke empty netter to make it 3-0 in favor of the Blue Jackets, Jets alternate captain Josh Morrissey would let his frustration out on Texier in the final seconds of the game.
Yeah; a very satisfying victory.