Smoked again: Calgary Flames set franchise shot record in 6-0 rout of Blue Jackets

·10 min read
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Dean Kukan (46) collides with Calgary Flames center Dillon Dube (29) and center Mikael Backlund (11) during the second period of the NHL hockey game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Dean Kukan (46) collides with Calgary Flames center Dillon Dube (29) and center Mikael Backlund (11) during the second period of the NHL hockey game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.

It happened again.

The final score wasn’t as bad as it was in Florida, but the Blue Jackets’ doors were blown off again Wednesday night at Nationwide Arena in another lackluster showing that’s become a disturbing trend.

The Calgary Flames did the honors, scorching the Jackets to the tune of a 6-0 score and mind-numbing 62-23 margin in shots — a new franchise record by three shots for the visitors from Alberta.

“No, I don’t think it’s a complete talent disparity,” said Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen, who has watched his team defeat some of the NHL’s best teams and also get destroyed by other top teams. “You’ve got to push yourself into these games. We talked a lot about, this morning, that you had to be ready to compete tonight. That’s a big hockey team that plays hard. We showed (our guys) a lot of video, of what they’re good at, and we didn’t respond. And that’s on me. I’ve got to make sure that we’re better than that, no question, getting into that game, and we did not get into it nearly as hard or heavy as we needed to.”

Calgary did from the start.

The Flames (20-12-6) never let up, similar to the way the Florida Panthers played in a 9-2 shellacking of the Blue Jackets almost two weeks earlier in Sunrise, Florida.

Mikael Backlund scored the game’s first goal 4:21 into after puck drop, beating Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins with a slap shot under the glove that lit the fuse on another Columbus blowout.

Matthew Tkachuk scored two goals and Johnny Gaudreau dished out three assists to lead the way for Calgary, which got a 23-save shutout from goalie Jacob Markstrom. The Flames' other goals were scored by Elias Lindholm, Erik Gudbranson and Andrew Mangiapane — whose deflection in the second period made it 2-0 and withstood a video review to see if it was touched with a high stick.

That goal and Tkachuk’s first, which made it 3-0 with 5.2 seconds left in the second period, were crushing goals for Merzlikins, whose 56 saves set a new career-high and franchise record.

Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand (28) gets tangled up with Calgary Flames defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) during the second period of the NHL hockey game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.
Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand (28) gets tangled up with Calgary Flames defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) during the second period of the NHL hockey game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Blue Jackets (18-21-1) now host the New York Rangers on Thursday in the back-to-back finale, looking to bounce back against the Metropolitan Division’s top team. They'll also have to do it without Alexandre Texier, who didn’t finish the game because of a hand injury.

"This one, obviously, was probably one of our worst games and we don’t have much time to think about it,” defenseman Zach Werenski said. “I’m going to think about it (Wednesday night) and probably watch some video of my own shifts and things I didn’t do good, and wake up (Thursday), forget about it and get ready for the Rangers. And as a group, we have to forget about (this), worry about the Rangers (on Thursday) and just come with some more energy.”

Blue Jackets might lose Alexandre Texier for extended time

Coaches will often defer to their training staffs when asked about injuries after games or say they’re not sure how bad an injury is at that point. That’s typically a sign that an injury might have some good news coming after re-evaluation the next day.

Conversely, it’s never good news for the injured player when they’re compelled to say a player might “miss some time.”

That’s where the Blue Jackets are with Texier, who sustained an apparent hand or finger injury in the first period. After getting treatment on the bench, Texier left the game and didn’t return. Larsen’s update following the game wasn’t encouraging about a quick return to action.

“He’s getting looked at with the doctor here,” Larsen said. “It looks like he’s going to be out a little bit here.”

The Blue Jackets did not release anything after the game, but that assessment makes it sound like they could be without Texier for weeks instead of days.

That’s a tough one to absorb too. Texier is third on the team in goals (11) and he’s sixth in scoring with 20 points. The French forward has also become one of the Jackets’ top penalty-killers, often creating havoc by pressuring the puck in all three zones while shorthanded.

Interesting scouting list for Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames

Almost every NHL game has at least one or two scouts watching from the press box, so merely seeing scouts in attendance doesn’t usually mean too much.

Wednesday’s list in Columbus was a little different because of the Blue Jackets’ interest in Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun, as reported twice by Sportsnet in less than a week. Among those on the credential list were Coyotes scout Mike Guentzel, Nashville Predators scout Stan Drulia and Seattle Kraken assistant general manager Jason Botterill.

Nov 20, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun (6) against the Detroit Red Wings at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 20, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun (6) against the Detroit Red Wings at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Guentzel’s presence was most notable.

Sportsnet reports by insiders Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman both listed the Blue Jackets among teams chasing after Chychrun, a 23-year old defenseman who led all NHL defenseman with 18 goals last season. Marek initially said the Jackets were one of six teams pursuing the available blue-liner and Friedman followed up Monday by saying Columbus is one of four teams topping the list of suitors.

A report by The Hockey Writers’ Mark Scheig also confirmed that Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and assistant GM Josh Flynn attended the Coyotes’ 4-1 victory last week in New Jersey.

Botterill’s name was surprising to see because he’s the Kraken’s assistant GM. He shows up on the Jackets’ credentials list occasionally, so it wasn’t too out-of-the-ordinary. The Kraken also have a game Sunday against the New York Rangers, who were represented at the game by GM Chris Drury, coach Gerard Gallant and two assistants.

Gallant coached the Blue Jackets from 2003 to 2006, still enjoys visiting Columbus and had his hat into the ring during the Jackets’ coaching search last summer.

Nashville’s Drulia was notable because the Predators are a playoff contender that’s done playing the Blue Jackets and Rangers this season, so he had no reason to get a scouting report for upcoming games. Nashville also doesn’t play Calgary until late April.

Zach Werenski focuses inward after latest ‘embarrassing’ loss

Just as he did following the humiliating loss to the Panthers, Zach Werenski met with reporters following the game via teleconference.

Rather than burying just the team, the first-year alternate captain began his comments trying to shoulder the blame for the latest fiasco. A complete no-show like this was clearly the fault of the team over one star defenseman’s poor performance, but Werenski showing accountability for what happened shouldn’t be overlooked.

That’s the kind of stuff members of team “leadership groups” are expected to exhibit, especially as important as Werenski.

“It’s just frustrating, you know, and it starts with me, I think,” Werenski said. “I can be a better player for this team, especially on nights like this (and) the Florida game. … it’s almost easy to play well when the team’s playing well. This is one of the toughest times, where our team’s not playing great, and I think in a game like that, I have to look at that and be a guy that can spark the team a little bit. For me, personally, I’m just kind of frustrated with how I played. Obviously, it wasn’t good.”

Werenski finished with a minus-4 plus/minus rating and was on the ice for two of the Flames’ three goals in the third. That included Tkachuk’s second goal, which he scored off a feed from Gaudreau following a move to get around Werenski in the slot.

“From the beginning of the game, we didn’t really create much, didn’t have much jump, and that’s why I’m so frustrated in myself, because those are moments where I can jump up in the play and make a big play or be better defensively,” Werenski said. “I got beat a couple times tonight that ended up in goals and it just hurts our team.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larsen watches during the second period of the NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larsen watches during the second period of the NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.

Blue Jackets deluged with goals

Neither Werenski nor Larsen used the ‘Q’ word to describe what happened.

They didn’t say the Jackets quit or gave up, but each insinuated that it was reminiscent to what happened Jan. 15 against the Panthers and Jan. 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes, who overcame a 4-0 deficit midway through the second period to win 7-4 on seven straight goals.

This time, it was Backlund’s quick goal that let the air out of the Jackets’ bench.

“We’ve been scored on early quite a bit lately and I think that, for whatever reason, kind of deflates our bench,” Werenski said. “We still have 50 minutes of hockey left to try and get back in it and we’re already deflated. I said this earlier, when Carolina came back and beat us 7-4 (in) that game at home ... no matter what the score is, we’ve got to play our game. We can’t stop playing. And that’s what we’ve done lately.”

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) watches the puck fly over his head during the first period of the NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) watches the puck fly over his head during the first period of the NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.

Since Thanksgiving, the Blue Jackets have allowed six goals three times, seven goals twice, nine goals once and five goals on three occasions for a total of 56 goals allowed in those nine games. That’s an average of 6.2 per game and, not surprisingly, they’ve gone 0-9-0 in those contests.

The Jackets were outscored in those games 56-19 and that’s not counting four games in the stretch when Columbus allowed four goals. Werenski said a big problem is having players slow up once they fall behind.

“Florida, we stopped playing, and tonight, for the most part, I thought we stopped playing,” Werenski said. “That’s where it gets frustrating, and myself included in all this, by the way. I think continuing to play, even when we’re down three, four, five goals, is something we have to get better at.”

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) reacts to giving up a goal to Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane during the second period of the NHL hockey game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) reacts to giving up a goal to Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane during the second period of the NHL hockey game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.

Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins was sharp despite allowing six goals

It might look strange after a 6-0 loss, but the Blue Jackets’ best player was their goalie and it wasn’t even a close race.

Merzlikins was besieged with shots from start to finish and held the Jackets within 1-0 until Mangiapane’s deflected goal with 4:46 left in the second period gave the dominant Flames a bigger cushion. Prior to that tally, Merzlikins made a bunch of high-difficulty saves and spearheaded the Jackets’ impressive penalty kill early in the second while down two skaters for a 1:16 span.

During that kill, he made two nifty glove saves, kicked away another puck with his right pad off a one-timer and deflected yet another slap shot from between the circles into the safety netting. Merzlikins also stopped at least one breakaway in the second and got little help the entire game.

“At the end of the day, we lost, so you don’t really want to focus on stuff to that extent,” forward Max Domi said of Merzlikins’ night. “But Elvis was good and we’d have liked to help him a lot more, because there’s only so much a goalie can do.”

bhedger@dispatch.com

@BrianHedger

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus Blue Jackets scorched by Calgary Flames on home ice