Blue Jackets split series with Dallas, Khudobin in Columbus

Thursday; 3-4, Regulation Loss at Columbus

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and tonight all Dallas Stars fans feel this sentiment. Following a tally on Dallas Stars goalkeeper Anton Khudobin in the first period,  Blue Jackets winger Oliver Bjorkstrand nailed his best Steve Urkel facial expression, exuding the phrase ‘did I do that?’, see above for reference.

Following the opening four minutes of this contest Dallas never surrendered the xGF% (Expected Goals) lead. It was that kind of night. Finishing the game at a ripe xGF% of 68.0% to Columbus at 32.0%. Final tally in an average NHL contest would have ended Dallas 2.58, Columbus 1.20 on the basis of shots alone.

“I felt pretty good physically, mentally, but there’s something that wasn’t going my way,” Khudobin said. “I hate to lose. I hate to play like this. It wasn’t my night.”

While it played like an R.L. Stine book entitled ‘Revenge of the Low-Danger Scoring Chances’ for Dallas Stars goalkeeper Anton Khudobin, Blue Jackets winger Jack Roslovic gave Columbus a 2-0 lead late in the first period on likely the most telling play of the contest.

Two nifty eventual assists and less than stellar defensive positioning on the part of the Stars freed a net cutting Roslovic up for an uncontested shot from the slot. Placing his screamer high, glove side, to continue a trend that has reared its head as of late this season for Dallas.

Moments apart in the second period, Blue Jacket forwards Boone Jenner and Vladislav Gavrikov both marked high, glove side on two tries. Jenner, a left-handed shot, visibly winds up off the left boards to go far side right on Khudobin while Gavrikov sneaks his try through and off the crossbar. More of the same in the third period as teammates Riley Nash and Max Domi take their own attempts high, glove side.

More Famously, Carolina Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter sent Sunday’s contest to an eventual shootout loss for Dallas on the same ripper high, glove side. Largely, Khudobin has met these tries head on, echoing his standing as last seasons NHL save percentage leader. I’m hesitant to lump either high, glove side goal from Vincent Trocheck and Ryan Dzingel of the Hurricanes on Saturday into this paragraph as neither presented as a targeted attack, more the most logical place a hockey player would put a puck in each situation.

None the less, there was a noticeable effort from Columbus and head coach John Tortorella to target that position Thursday. With number one goalkeeper Ben Bishop on the mend into what is likely an April return to the ice, the Dallas Stars can hardly afford their net minders kryptonite exposed this early into an already shortened, point frantic season. You hope, if there is cause for concern, that it does not begin leaking deeper into film rooms across the Central Division.

This loss was compounded by a Blue Jackets tripping penalty to close out the game which handed Dallas 100+ seconds of 5 on 4 ice time, nearly 80 seconds of that spent 6 on 4. Alas, the Stars recently splendid power-play unit  could only get a single puck through off the body of Columbus goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. This was a scrambled rebound deflected off a blocked shot from distance, put-back from Alexander Radulov.

With a final score of 4-3, it was the Stars second outright loss on the season.

Central Division

Outside the North (Canadian) Division, if you ask me, the Central Division is most likely to produce an ‘upset’ come playoff season.  National Hockey League policy on playoff contention is cut and dry, which I support overall. Each division has eight teams, outside those treacherous Canadians, and the top four from each qualify for the playoffs.

While I have my reservations on the ‘technically still undefeated’ Florida Panthers, who took an overtime loss today opposite Nashville, Columbus now has regulation wins over both 2019-2020 Stanley Cup competitors; the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning. No other team can say that.

‘Green Power Ranger’ Line

More of the same from this line, which Blackout Dallas spotlighted earlier this week, of captain Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov tonight in Columbus. Each gets on the scoreboard, Radulov credited with three even-strength helpers.

Entering tonight’s play, Radulov carried an impressive FF% clip of 62.4%. FF% is a data set derived around even strength hockey where the belief that a higher accumulation of shots taken – excluding blocked shots – leads to a higher possession total which leads to an increased rate of victory on the ice. Of NHL players with a minimum of seven games played ahead of him; Mark Stone, Cale Makar, Vincent Trocheck, Jack Eichel, Brady Tkachuk, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Viktor Arvidsson and our buddy Nino Niederreiter. That is impressive company.

Who Impressed Us

  • Jason Dickinson continues to impress behind the opposing net, aided by an unlimited number of hard-nosed ice hockey teachers on this club. Also added his second tally of the season, albeit unknowingly off his equipment.
  • Joel Hanley looked at home on the left side of the ice in the Stars ‘defenders jump up’ offensive scheme, holding the zone on a number of occasions for Dallas.
  • Roope Hintz rotated well throughout, even finding himself in front of the net on a number of chances to include his own PPG. Looked like a noticeable effort to play a more well rounded version of ice hockey from the youngster. Also drew the late penalty in front of the opposing net thanks to his speed.
  • Miro Heiskanen, off to a relatively slow start, looked comfortable serving time not only on the PK but on the PP tonight, picking up a helper of his own.

Dynamic Duo

Finnish and Swedish blue line superheroes Jon Klingberg and Esa Lindell allowed their first even strength goal of the season on Roslovics’ bullet in the first period. Their time served on ice together this season totaled over 100 minutes at time of the goal.

Not to be outdone, Dallas Stars defenders Andrej Sekera and Jamie Oleksiak finished the 2019-2020 season with the same statistic line, over 100 minutes served of even strength, goal free hockey.

Personnel Updates

In a zoom media update from head coach Rick Bowness on Wednesday it was announced that the team will reevaluate Joel Kiviranta for a lower body injury upon landing in Dallas for their upcoming eight-game home stand. Speaking of FF%, Kiviranta – given a smaller sample size – registered a team topping 57.1% last season.

News on forward Ty Dellandrea was more definitive with Bowness announcing that the rookie forward will take the ice on Sunday in Dallas opposite the Chicago Blackhawks.

No taxi squad announcements have been made since the close of tonight’s game but there are clearly question marks to have a look at. Taxi regulars Jason Robertson and Joel L’Esperance registered a +/- of -4 on the evening, with the latter receiving less than seven minutes of ice time. Just eclipsing that total and registering his own +/- of -2 was Nick Caamano, who has taken the ice in all Dallas Stars games this season and has yet to register a point.

Tanner Kero, anyone?

See you all on Sunday in Dallas at American Airlines Arena!