The Columbus Blue Jackets may be closing out the year on the road, but Tuesday night’s roller coaster game against the Phoenix Coyotes all but guaranteed they won’t need a monumental finish to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. They now find themselves four points up on the Washington Capitals with the tiebreaker squarely in their back pocket, and five up on the Devils, also with the tiebreaker. That’s pretty much all she wrote.
The most exciting part for them is that a few wins in their final three games in which they’re at Dallas, at Tampa Bay, and at Florida, and they could give the Red Wings a run for the top wild card spot, which would mean NOT facing the Boston Bruins. That’s a pretty big prize right there.
The goal that put them in this comfy-cozy position was a Ryan Johansen breakaway snipe – his 32nd(!) of the year – in overtime past Thomas Greiss. He’s still 21, bee tee dubs.
So, what went wrong for the Coyotes? What went right for the Blue Jackets?
Boone Jenner pressures Zbynek Michalek, who has solid, solid possession of the puck on the back-end. Ekman-Larsson is being aggressive, jumping up to give Michalek a passing option by skating across the blue-line a zone ahead, while Antoine Vermette presents his stick on the boards.
Lauri Korpikoski completes the Coyotes change, and also presents for Michalek. In short, Michalek has options, man.
Then, he makes the bad, terrible decision to try to beat Jenner as the last man back. Even if he sees an easy way to do it, there’s no point in taking a risk in this situation. Just move it early and hard to one of your teammates that’s attacking the Blue Jackets. You’ve already got your partner going for the gusto, somebody’s gotta play Spock here and think logically.
The attempted move, as it happens when you try to do something yourself, goes awry when Michalek loses the handle.
You’ll notice in the picture above where Ryan Johansen is. Jenner has provided the pressure in their 4-on-4 neutral zone forecheck, and he’s sagged back as he should. He’s in perfect position, waiting to take Korpikoski on the rush.
The mishandle from Michalek somehow perfectly threads the small gap between the sticks of Vermette and Ekman-Larsson. The latter of those two has just a disaster sequence here. He’s probably been told he’s a rover in 4-on-4 situations, but he’s quite a bit ahead of the play, isn’t skating hard enough to pick up Michalek’s error, then proceeds to play on the D-side of the puck like he’s been chewing valium. Dude is just chillin’.
Remember how we noted Johansen’s defensive positioning before? Again, look at the picture above. His team has the puck now, and while Korpikoski has taken a second to figure out how the play is going to develop, he’s planted his back skate, started from a stop, and taken off down the ice. Wisniewski hasn’t even looked there yet, put Johansen has hockey sense and knows to fly the zone. Buh-bye.
Man, I cannot draw a straight line. Anyway, Ekman-Larsson’s casual swoop combined with Michalek trying to recover from his turnover (I doubt he thought Columbus would end up with possession of it so quickly – he had two teammates right where the lost puck went) has left a lane as wide as a major highway, and Johansen has his speed up when Wisniewski sees him, and guns it through the neutral zone.
That’s a pretty remarkable meltdown off one turnover. Korpikoski could’ve seen it happen, hit the brakes and backed out. Ekman-Larsson could’ve taken a hard stride and picked up the error, or at least tried to get back to help. He doesn’t even try to get back despite there being a second CBJ player ahead of him. Michalek could’ve stayed in the middle of the ice after the turnover instead of doing a loop (but he’s probably boned either way).
In all, this is just another instance of Ryan Johansen being in good defensive position and turning it into a scoring chance. If you didn’t pick it up the first time I wrote about him, I’m kind of a fan.
A fun game to play for coaches of youth hockey players is to ask them to shoot the puck by the tops of the circles, and see how far beyond it they are by the time they release the puck. To get off a good, hard shot, you have to start preparing early. So, Johansen gets across the blue and reads how much time he has – he’s got room for another couple strides.
He sets at the top of the circles…
And pulls the trigger from a couple feet inside there.
Thomas Greiss has had a hell of a hockey season, but this was the second goal of the game that went high glove that wasn’t necessarily the perfect shot. Still, you can’t ask him to stop a shot from a goal scorer from there, so he’s certainly not to blame. And just like that, the Jackets are a near-lock for playoffs.
The coolest thing about this goal was the fan audio, because as Johansen sets to clearly shoot, they hold their collective breath. Listen for it.
And then, explosion.
Good for Columbus, good for Johansen. Now, if they can only sneak past Detroit and avoid Boston, who knows what they could do.