It's just one game, but it's a positive step forward.
The Blue Jackets were able to play their brand of hockey much more effectively tonight, holding the Predators to zero goals as Elvis Merzlikins notched his first shutout of the season and sixth of his career. Cam Atkinson, Max Domi, and Eric Robinson (EN) scored for Columbus in a 3-0 win.
"Today we played really well defensively...everybody was dialed in," said Merzlikins, who was very happy with the team's performance. The Latvian netminder lamented a few rebounds, and said that he didn't feel totally comfortable tonight, but emphasized that the team defensive effort was what got the win and shutout.
Merzlikins stopped all 32 shots tonight, and he's now 3-2-1 this season. Despite looking shaky at times this season, he was outstanding tonight and gave the Blue Jackets the opportunity to win the game.
"We were way better positionally from start to finish. Guys wanted the puck," Atkinson said, whose goal in the first period gave the Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead, and continued the winger's goal-scoring streak to five games. After a quiet start, Atkinson has 7-7-14 in 18 games this season, and 6-4-10 in his last seven games.
"Our (defensive) positioning was much better tonight. Obviously in the third period, we had a lot of practice," said head coach John Tortorella, who has been very unhappy with the team's recent defensive play. With Zach Werenski out, the Blue Jackets' blue line has been stretched thin, especially after the offseason departures of Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara. Seth Jones has noticeably stepped up after a tough start to the season, as has Andrew Peeke.
"Seth Jones was our best player (tonight) by a long shot," said Domi, who was the recipient of a Jones pass that the winger then deposited in the back of the net to give the Blue Jackets a 2-0 lead.
But the blue line isn't the only unit defending, especially in Tortorella's scheme. The forwards need to get back and help pursue the puck, and once they win it, get clean breakouts. They were able to do that tonight, with the exception of the third period, when the Predators practically hemmed the Blue Jackets in their zone for the first 15 minutes.
Tortorella was encouraged by tonight's effort and consistency, and he thought the Blue Jackets were "much better tonight." If they're looking for a blueprint going forward, tonight is a great one.