There are seven games to go, starting with tonight’s contest in Anaheim on the second night of a back-to-back, but the Blue Jackets don’t expect to phone things in from here on out.
“We are not going to give up,” goaltender Elvis Merzlikins said after the 2-1 setback to the Kings. “We are going to play until the last game. Whatever our situation is, we are not going to give up. We are not just going to go skate around and shoot some pucks.
“We are not a beer league team. We are a professional hockey team. We like to fight, we like to compete. It’s obviously a learning process for us, and it’s always nice to fight and fight back.”
The Blue Jackets got a little bit of a reminder of the intensity necessary for 60 minutes in Saturday night’s setback against the Kings. Los Angeles entered the game in desperate need of points as the Kings tried to fight off Vegas for a playoff spot, and LA was able to claim a 2-0 lead in the early going.
Los Angeles also had a 12-3 edge in shots on goal in the first (though shot attempts were much closer), as the Blue Jackets felt it took some time to get to the level of a Kings team fighting for its postseason lives.
“I think we knew what to expect since they’re fighting for a playoff spot and we were a must-win for them since we’re on the outside looking in here,” said Carson Mayerwho notched his second NHL assist on fellow Central Ohioan Sean Curaly‘s second period goal.
“We knew what was going to happen, but I don’t think we quite matched their intensity in the first period. I thought we played well in the second and third, but we were just playing catch-up at that point.”
Kuraly’s goal in the first minute of the second got the Blue Jackets back to within one at 2-1, but the team could get no closer. Los Angeles ended up blocking 26 shots — the team’s most since 2018 — and made it tough on Columbus to generate offense while closing out the victory.
“They played it safe, it looked like for me,” head coach Brad Larsen said. “You look at that team, they’re a stingy team. They don’t give up a lot. Their style of play in their zone, their 1-3-1, they sag that D a lot, they’re pretty stiff there. I don’t know how many shots they blocked — it seemed like a ton tonight — so I wasn’t surprised. They’re trying to win a hockey game. If they gotta win it 2-1, I think they’re more than happy to do that.”
Know the Foe
There’s a lot to like about the future of the Ducks, but in the present, Anaheim will fall short of a playoff berth for the fourth straight season.
That’s a major change from a lineage of success that includes the 2007 Stanley Cup win, another appearance in the Final in 2003, and six division titles as well as playoff appearances in 12 of 15 seasons from 2003 through 2018.
But there’s reason to believe the Ducks will be a force to be reckoned with down the road, as the team boasts a talented young core led by such players as 24-year-old Troy Terry, 20-year-old star in the making Trevor Zegras, 19-year-old defenseman Jamie Drysdale, 22-year-old Isac Lundestrom — all of whom have been major contributors this year — as well as prospects like first-round picks Mason McTavish and Jacob Perreault as well as 2021 World Juniors participants Sasha Pastukhov and Olen Zellweger.
This year’s version of the Ducks hung around the playoff race for much of the season, sitting at 23-16-9 at the All-Star break, but since then Anaheim has won just six of its last 28 games (6-17-5 ) since then.
Another major storyline is the upcoming retirement of longtime Ducks standout Ryan Getzlaf, the team captain since 2010 who has a 282-733-1,015 line in 1,153 games over 17 seasons, all spent with Anaheim.
On the year, Terry leads the team in scoring with 34 goals among his 60 points, while Zegras adds a 20-35-55 line and is burning a reputation as one of the most creative players in the game. Defenseman Cam Fowler is next with eight goals and 39 points, while Adam Henrique adds a 17-21-38 line and Kevin Shattenkirk has eight goals and 33 points. Getzlaf (3-30-33) and former CBJ forward Sonny Milano (13-18-31) are next in scoring, while Lundestrom has 16 goals on the season.
John Gibson has been the starter for much of the season, posting a 17-24-11 record, 3.16 GAA and .905 save percentage, while Anthony Stolarz (11-7-3, 2.63, .917) has been the primary backup.
On the whole, Dallas Eakins’ squad is 24th in the NHL in scoring (2.75 goals per game) and 22nd in team defense (3.21 goals allowed per game) but much better on special teams, placing 12th in both power play (21.7 percent) and penalty kill (81.0 percent).