The Columbus California trip ended on a high note, with the Blue Jackets riding a massive first period to victory over Anaheim. The CBJ picked up 4 goals in about 4 minutes of game time from 10:12 to 14:10 of the opening frame, and the burst was more than enough to seal the 4-0 win.
While the remainder of the game was a bit more pedestrian for the Jackets, it’s hard to uncover too many faults. The CBJ took four minor penalties in the final two frames, an invitation for an Anaheim rebound. In addition, working with the 4 goal lead meant score effects; either Anaheim pressing or Columbus playing more conservative meant an impressive 2nd period for the Ducks (pick your favorite narrative).
Ultimately, the Jackets never really surrendered control, and the team’s last line of defense held strong all night. Columbus is now up to 3-3-1 on the year after a challenging start to the season, going 1-1-1 in the Golden State (plus the road trip opening victory over Dallas).
Let’s look at some superlatives.
The Glorious: Foligno-Wennberg-Saad
Hockey success is fleeting, so let’s celebrate tonight’s joy while we can. The best part: the Foligno-Wennberg-Saad line. The best Jacket forward picked up two more goals, including one in the slot off a sweet Nick Foligno feed. Great pull-up and delivery from the Captain, fantastic finish from Brandon Saad.
Saad finished the night with two goals, Foligno with 3 assists, and Wennberg 2 primary assists. That’s a lot of skill on one line, and this continues Foligno’s redemption season (thanks, on-ice shooting percentage!).
As for the “quiet” guy on the line: I know that center’s supposed to be a weakness for the CBJ. I think that severely undersells Alex Wennberg’s set-up ability, and more multi-point nights like this go a long way toward convincing the doubters. (Of course, I’d suggest he was performing at a 1st or 2nd line center level last year.)
The Excellent: Sergei Bobrovsky
Bob weathered the late Anaheim storm, and rebuffed all the Ducks’ powerplay chances to preserve the road victory and earn an impressive 35 save shutout in a back-to-back performance. The early-season performance from Bobrovsky is completely different from the goalie’s October 2015 struggles, and it’s making a huge difference for the CBJ. More of this Bobrovsky will go a long way toward picking up points, even in games without 4 goal outbursts.
The Valuable: Sam Gagner
Sam Gagner isn’t going to be an 8-point player every night. Heck, he probably won’t repeat this two-goal showing every night. Instead, it’s remembering the value provided that makes Gagner so worthwhile. That’s not to say he’s Crosby or McDavid valuable. Rather, Gagner is more salary-cap-opportunism valuable, very important in the NHL. Back in May at Today’s Slapshot, Carolyn Wilke highlighted some of the value proposition. Pre-CBJ signing, the player was performing at a level consistent with typical $4-5 million players.
And with Gagner in under $1 million, the Jackets are serious one-year beneficiaries. Tonight that paid off. The initial lineup of Gagner with Hartnell and Sedlak provides a “4th” line depth that the Ducks just can’t (or won’t) match. Gagner’s first goal was a great combination of skilled passing with Hartnell, and opportunistic skating into the slot to nab a rebound.
The benefit to the CBJ? Gagner’s also comfortable in a powerplay role; the skater netted his second of the game on the man advantage. He’s flexible, he adds some offensive touch, and he’s cheap. Like every player, this outburst won’t happen every game, and that’s okay. Just having Gagner, having this kind of depth of skill is an upgrade over prior player usage.
The Blue Jackets return to Columbus, and host the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.