Three Things: Special Teams Aren't So Special, A Rough Night For Elvis, And The Curse Of Johnny Gaudreau

By Ed Francis on February 21, 2024 at 8:15 am
After a decent opening period, the final 40 minutes were a significant struggle for the Columbus Blue Jackets in Los Angeles on Tuesday against the Kings.
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For all but one sensational sequence from Quinton Byfield, the Columbus Blue Jackets hung with the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night. the first period.

But the Blue Jackets were again doomed by their own shortcomings in the final 40 minutes, and the Kings cruised to a 5-1 victory Tuesday night in front of their home crowd at Arena.

Pierre-Luc Dubois scored twice against his former team, the Blue Jackets special teams gave them no chance, and Adam Boqvist had the lone goal for Columbus as the club continued their California road trip. 

Here are three things from the late-night loss on the west coast:

Special Teams, Special Problem

For the 5th time in their last seven games, the Blue Jackets gave up multiple power play goals — and for the sixth time in those same seven games, they didn't score when on the man-advantage. 

Struggling outside of 5-on-5 is not a recipe for success; there's no coincidence that the good teams in the NHL are good at special teams and the bad teams are bad. Of the 12 best power plays in the league, ten of them are currently in position to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Subsequently, nine of the 12 best penalty kills would find themselves playing beyond the regular season if the season ended today. 

So for the Blue Jackets, who have a penalty kill success of just 50% (12-of-24) over their last seven games and have converted on just 2-of-20 power plays in that same time, it's no wonder that winning games have been few and far between. 

In 5-on-5 play during that same stretch, they're even with the opposition: 15 goals for, 15 goals against. Here's their play this season when at even strength versus not this season:

Goals Per Game
GF, 5V5    116 1.93
GF, TOTAL    156 2.60
GA, 5V5    127 2.11
GA, TOTAL    201 3.35

The goal differential when at 5-on-5, even strength is just -0.18 — not terrible, given where they sit in the standings. But it jumps to -0.75 overall. That's a huge difference, and not a winning recipe. Columbus allowed goals on both of Los Angeles' power plays Tuesday night, while being held scoreless in their three power play attempts. Better play on special teams may not have been enough to save them from the Kings, but at the very least, it would have been hockey worth staying up for.

There is one other team who is at -11 at 5V5 even strength this season: the Nashville Predators, who are currently tied for the final wild card spot in the western conference. 

Elvis' Struggles At An Inconvenient Time

With the trade deadline coming up in just over two weeks (March 8th), the Blue Jackets are one of the more heavily scouted teams right now. Teams are looking for that one piece that will help put them over the edge, give them depth for what they hope to be a long run, or provide an insurance policy. 

The Blue Jackets will again be in the "sellers" category at this season's deadline, and Elvis Merzlikins is one of those players being watched carefully by opposing clubs looking for one of the three aforementioned items.

So giving up five goals (and a sixth that was called back) on 35 shots and falling well short of the expected goals tally (3.86 per MoneyPuck) isn't doing anyone any favors. Not Elvis, not the Blue Jackets, and not teams that are potentially interested in acquiring him (and as much of his salary as possible, please and thank you). 

Of course, every now and then a player is going to do something like this:

There wasn't much Elvis could do there against Quinton Byfield; that was one of the best individual efforts of the season. It felt like Merzlikins (rightfully) expected Zach Werenski to do enough to prevent Byfield from getting that kind of shot off, but hey, sometimes you just have to appreciate the beauty of the game. A terrific play from Kings forward for his 18th goal of the season.

Sympathy For Johnny

For the second time in as many games, Johnny Gaudreau scored — until he didn't. His first period, would-be goal was taken back after a Los Angeles challenge for goaltender intereference. Gaudreau has been stuck on seven goals for the season since December 29th, and to add insult to injury, saw his six-game point streak snapped Tuesday night in Los Angeles. 

When Gaudreau faces the Ducks on Wednesday, it'll be his 33rd game against Anaheim. He has just five goals (but 24 assists) against them, including only one tally in his last 18 games dating back to the 2017-18 season. Naturally, mentioning this will end the skid. (Unless saying that it will end the skid creates reverse karma and now he won't?)

UP NEXT: One More In Cali

The Blue Jackets conclude their four-game road trip and wrap up business in the state of the California for the season when they face the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night at 10:00 p.m. ET,