After The Pause: What The Columbus Blue Jackets Can Switch Defensively In An Effort To Ease The Burden On Merzlikins, Korpisalo

By Ed Francis on December 22, 2021 at 1:45 pm
Will the return of Dean Kukan bring any stability to the mediocre Columbus Blue Jackets defense?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday's part one of this two-part, post-pause lineup preview provided some  concepts that the Columbus Blue Jackets may explore for their forward units when play resumes. 

Now it's time to examine the defense — what has worked, what hasn't, and where the team may go from here.


Zach Werenski & Adam Boqvist

WHY: No player has been noticeably bad on defense, but collective, teams aren't having too hard of a time scoring on the Blue Jackets. They rank 25th in goals allowed (3.36), 30th in expected goals against (2.74), and dead last in shots allowed per game (34.8). 

In other words, it can't get much worse. So this isn't so much as a direct criticism to Jake Bean, who has been with Werenski for the duration of the season on Columbus' top defensive pairing. But the combination is averaging an expected goals against of 3.00, which is the highest of any combination with more than 30 minutes of ice time.

The Blue Jackets would be wise to see what the results would be if they were to shift the pairings around. The Werenski-Boqvist combination has allowed an xGA of only 2.23; the sample size is not large enough (41 minutes), but limited success is still success. 


Vladislav Gavrikov & Jake Bean

WHY: This slight adjustment of Bean from the top to the second pairing won't mean much of an adjustment in minutes — Bean sees 22:41 in the average game on the top, Gavrikov is averaging 21:15. This would be the "balanced" line of the three, with Werenski and Boqvist being two-way blue liners and the third pairing below (Dean Kukan and Andrew Peeke) playing the role of stay-at-home defensemen. 


Dean Kukan & Andrew Peeke

WHY: Peeke has exceeded expectations this season and deserves to stay in the lineup. Dean Kukan has had a rollercoaster of a tenure with the Blue Jackets over the last three seasons, and breaking his wrist in the first week of the season was a bad break in more ways than one. But with the injury nearly behind him, and unlike many times throughout last season, Kooks will get the chance to see in-game action under head coach Brad Larsen. Putting these two together provides a defensively-minded duo, with good size (Peeke is 6'3", Kukan 6'2") and reach.

What Else: It's really, really tempting to give Jake Christiansen a spot post-pause. He was recalled from Cleveland earlier in the week and likely would have made his NHL debut Monday night in Buffalo, but the game was postponed, and so was the 22-year-old's debut with Columbus. Ultimately, it's inevitable that Christiansen will skate on the Jackets blue line at some point this season, one way or another.

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