COLUMBUS, Ohio — The lingering memory from the Blue Jackets’ 3-1 win over Calgary on Friday took place with less than 10 seconds remaining, when the result was no longer in doubt.
Calgary defenseman Rasmus Andersson left his skates to deliver an elbow-first blow to the head of Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine a half-second after Laine released a shot from the blue line. Laine tumbled face down on the ice as all hell broke loose.
Blue Jackets defenseman Erik Gudbranson jumped Andersson from behind and bloodied him, just as the other Blue Jackets and Flames on the ice grabbed ahold of dance partners to see where this might be headed. Twenty years ago, it would have been a melee.
“I see a hit to the head and (Andersson) lifting his feet,” Blue Jackets coach Pascal Vincent said. “I saw the replay. That’s illegal in my book. So we’ll let the NHL deal with it.”
Andersson was given a five-minute major for elbowing at the final buzzer, and there could be further fallout from the NHL on Saturday, in the form of a fine or a suspension.
But the immediate punishment was enforced by Gudbranson, Andersson’s former teammate with Calgary.
“We’re a pack here and we protect each other,” Vincent said. “The hit was on Patty, but it could have been on anyone. That’s how we’re going to respond. That’s what a team looks like.”
Andersson catches Laine with a hit in the dying seconds of the game. pic.twitter.com/VvpTXylYYU
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 21, 2023
Laine remained face down on the ice for a few seconds after the hit, then headed to the dressing room under his own power, hurling his helmet down the tunnel ahead of him.
The Blue Jackets flew after the game to Minnesota for a Saturday game against the Wild, but there was not an immediate update available on Laine. It was unclear if he would be able to travel with the club.
It was an explosive end to an otherwise good night for the Blue Jackets, who have spent the early days of the season in a chaotic swirl, adjusting to a new coach, a new system, several new faces in the lineup and constantly changing lines and pairs.
There were more moves Friday, too.
Defenseman Zach Werenski, who was injured in the opener, was activated from injured reserve, forcing a roster move the Blue Jackets have long tried to avoid. Winger Liam Foudy, the club’s first-round pick in 2018 (No. 18), was placed on waivers and will be sent to AHL Cleveland if he clears Saturday.
Also, goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, who left a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers last Saturday because of the flu, was expected to start. But by late afternoon, he was feeling queasy again, meaning Spencer Martin took the nets. Martin stopped 36 of 37 shots, allowing only a short-handed breakaway goal at 10:37 of the third.
The Jackets got two goals from their fourth line (Sean Kuraly made it 1-0 in the second, and Justin Danforth made it 2-0 in the third) and capped it with an empty-net goal from Werenski with 2:24 remaining.
There’s still a lot to clean up and a long way to go before the Blue Jackets seem completely familiar with the new system Vincent is preaching. But there was definite progress in all areas on Friday.
“We had our battle and compete, like we worked on this week,” Kuraly said. “Our systems work a lot better when we’re winning pucks, just like any system.”
The Blue Jackets had two hard days of practice after a desultory 4-0 loss to Detroit on Monday, stressing one-on-one battles and hard skating drills, the type you’d typically see early in training camp, not one week into the regular season.
Vincent could see the fruits of the labor immediately.
“I want them to feel good,” Vincent said. “I know those guys, right? I know they mean well. I know they want to do well. Sometimes you push your team, but you push them in a way you know they will respond because you know those players.
“They weren’t happy with themselves the last game. Tonight they responded well. We have a good room.”
First example: At 9:04 of the first period, Blue Jackets center Cole Sillinger collided with Flames center Nazem Kadri before both players dropped their gloves. Sillinger in his first NHL fight more than held his own against Kadri, a tough customer.
“These are key moments,” Vincent said. “We’re seeing the Cole Sillinger we saw (his rookie) year. He’s involved and he’s physically involved.”
Kuraly, meanwhile, anchored a new-look fourth line, with Jack Roslovic to his right and Danforth to his left. That’s not a typical fourth line, certainly, and it didn’t play like one, either.
— NHL (@NHL) October 21, 2023
The Jackets took a 1-0 lead at 6:29 of the second when Kuraly scored his first of the season. He was sprung from the defensive zone by a sharp pass from Danforth, springing Kuraly on a two-on-one with Roslovic. As they neared the circles, Kuraly let loose a wrister that sailed past Jacob Markstrom.
Danforth made it 2-0 midway through the third when Roslovic skated the puck out from below the goal line and sent a nifty pass across the net mouth, where Danforth waited for the tap-in.
“I’m a big believer in watching and evaluating practices,” Vincent said. “Those three guys have been working really hard the last two days. Hard practices, yes, but they pushed themselves. We had some good hopes that they would click.
“There’s a combination of different skills. They played hard tonight. At the end (of the game), I wasn’t afraid to put them on the ice when (Markstrom) was out (for an extra skater) because they deserved it.”
(Photo of Erik Gudbranson tackling Rasmus Andersson after the Flames defenseman hit Patrik Laine, on the ice: Ben Jackson / NHLI via Getty Images)