The Columbus Blue Jackets are back!
After having five games postponed due to COVID protocols, the Blue Jackets returned to the ice at Nationwide Arena on Thursday for their first game action in exactly two weeks.
Their opponent, the Nashville Predators, played on Wednesday, losing 5-3 at the Washington Capitals.
It was going to be interesting to see how both teams played in this one since everyone, more or less, is rested and things are neutralized as teams return to play following the extended holiday pause.
Elvis Merzlikins (31 saves on 34 shots) was in the net for his seventh consecutive start opposing David Rittich (26 of 29) for the Predators as the Blue Jackets took this one 4-3 in the shootout.
Getting Back To Strength
The Blue Jackets were mostly back to full strength with the exception of a few guys still in COVID protocol.
While Boone Jenner (one goal, one assist) returned off protocol and scored his team-leading 12th goal of the season to tie the game at one in the first period, the Blue Jackets were without Oliver Bjorkstrand who was placed in the protocol on Dec. 27.
Adam Boqvist (activated off IR Thursday) and Vladislav Gavrikov assisted on Jenner's goal. In addition to a two-point night, Jenner had four shots in 22:20 of ice time.
Eric Robinson is still in protocol, and Daniil Tarasov was the backup goalie behind Merzlikins as Joonas Korpisalo works his way back. Korpisalo is out of protocol and practiced ahead of the game on Thursday morning.
Good news for the #CBJ Joonas Korpisalo is off the COVID protocols list and getting in some work with goaltending coach Manny Legace pre-morning skate.— Brian Hedger (@BrianHedger) December 30, 2021
Given time it often takes for goalies to get up to speed, expect goalies tonight to be Merzlikins and Tarasov. pic.twitter.com/nlrLTSLbzV
Patrik Laine was a beast after missing 19 games because of the oblique injury sustained on Nov. 3 at the Colorado Avalanche. He led both teams with seven shots while blocking two in 21:57 and getting his fourth goal 24 seconds into the second period.
Rest or Rust?
Columbus only had six first period shots on goal as they showed some obvious rust, and understandably so.
Some stats through 20 minutes with help from @NatStatTrick— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) December 31, 2021
Shots on goal: 12-6 NSH
Shot attempts (5x5): 18-9 NSH
xG (5x5): 0.63-0.43 NSH#CBJ will want to generate more but didn't give Nashville a ton of great looks
Back for period two and looking for a little more sustained offense, but it's 1-1. #CBJ— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) December 31, 2021
A winning formula is Laine and Jake Voracek reunited again. Jenner was part of the trio, as the three connect for the quick second period goal at 24 seconds.
The Blue Jackets have had their issues against the Predators. It looked like it might have been the same story on Thursday, yet again.
It certainly appeared that way when the ice tilted towards the Predators' favor late in the second period. On top 2-1, the Blue Jackets narrowly missed taking a 3-1 lead, but couldn't convert on a 2-on-1 break.
A moment later, Nick Cousins tied the game at 15:31. Only 35 seconds later, the Predators took the 3-2 lead on a power play goal by Ryan Johansen (Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund assist).
This is the eighth time in the last 11 games the Jackets have given up back-to-back goals within a minute of one another.#CBJ 2-5-0 in those games coming in.— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) December 31, 2021
But on this night, things would be different.
If you were asked who has the second-most goals on the team by the end of 2021, would Alexandre Texier be your guess? His 10th goal (unassisted) at 13:33 of the third period came at a critical time as it tied the game at three, which is where things stood through three periods.
Neither team could capitalize in overtime.
As we went to the shootout, Gus Nyquist had the deciding goal in the fifth round to end it for Columbus and give them the 4-3 win. Columbus is now 7-1 in games that go beyond 60 minutes.
With the win, Columbus improves to 30-54-1-12 all-time against their old Central Division Rivals. The win moves them a game over .500 at Nationwide Arena versus Nashville (21-20-0-6).
New Year's Day
The Blue Jackets will battle the Carolina Hurricanes at Nationwide Arena on Saturday, New Year's Day, at 1:00 pm ET. The Blue Jackets lost to the Hurricanes 5-1 in Columbus on Oct. 23. The Hurricanes defeated the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday 4-0 at PNC Arena.