Blue Jackets Prepare For Life Without Zach Werenski
The Columbus Blue Jackets needed a win on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. While they accomplished their goal, it came at a big cost.
The Blue Jackets defeated the Flyers 5-2 thanks to two goals from Boone Jenner, a three-point night from Johnny Gaudreau and a strong performance by Joonas Korpisalo. However all of this was overshadowed by what was announced postgame by head coach Brad Larsen.
Werenski Out Long Term
Defenseman Zach Werenski left the game late in the first period after crashing into the boards awkwardly while trying to hit Travis Konecny. He left the ice in obvious pain.
“It’s not good for (Werenski.) It’s not gonna be good at all,” Larsen said.
While no official timeline has been placed on a potential return yet, the Blue Jackets are going to have to prepare for life without their best defenseman. One indication of this was the late night news of a pair of callups from the Cleveland Monsters.
According to the Athletic’s Aaron Portzline, both Gavin Bayreuther and Marcus Bjork will be called up to the Blue Jackets (from ‘A Win at a Great Cost: Blue Jackets Lose Defenseman Zach Werenski to Injury’, Aaron Portzline, The Athletic, 11/11/2022.) Both are expected to be at Friday’s practice and each are expected to play Saturday night against the New York Islanders. If Bjork does draw in, that would be his NHL debut.
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You can expect several roster moves coming to accommodate all of this. The Blue Jackets had 23 on their roster prior to the Werenski injury. In addition, Erik Gudbranson left the game in the second period after an unfortunate collision with Nicolas Deslauriers on the boards. Larsen said postgame this injury is more day-to-day.
If Gudbranson cannot play Saturday night, here are the six defensemen expected to suit up for the game.
- Jake Bean
- Andrew Peeke
- Vladislav Gavrikov
- Nick Blankenburg
- Gavin Bayreuther
- Marcus Bjork
Bean took over PP1 point responsibilities after Werenski left the game so expect him to play heavy minutes in the near term. This group will try to keep things steady while the Blue Jackets navigate the injury waters. Adam Boqvist remains sidelined also.
This sets up to be a big opportunity for players looking for more ice time and to make a bigger impact. The Blue Jackets are not going to replace a player like Werenski. They will have to do it by committee by playing within themselves and not making huge mistakes.
As For the Game Itself
The Blue Jackets played one of their best games of the season against the Flyers. They were able to build a 3-0 lead before having to play with just four defensemen. They looked gassed later in the game and held on despite the Flyers getting it to 3-2.
A well-timed faceoff win by Brendan Gaunce got the puck back to Blankenburg who hit the empty net from 195 feet away. It was a huge moment in the game with the Flyers pressing.
“Everyone did their job on that play, boxouts and there was room to shoot it,” Blankenburg said of his empty net goal. “So luckily it went in.”
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Blankenburg actually didn’t see the puck go in since there were so many players in front of him around the faceoff circle. “I was tired. I was like please just go in.” He also said this was a planned play off the faceoff.
Liam Foudy told Blankenburg that he was going to try to beat the icing so shoot it down the strong side wall. It worked out and provided the margin of victory.
Blankenburg along with Mathieu Olivier each stepped up physically when needed. In defending Korpisalo’s crease, Blankenburg took exception to Scott Laughton and Joel Farabee and started throwing punches. That was well received by Korpisalo and his teammates. Olivier answered the call when challenged by Deslauriers. It was a good fight and definitely earned the respect of Larsen.
“He’s had two pretty big (fights.) The guy he fought against Colorado. That’s men only,” Larsen said. “That’s not a guy just holding on. You have no idea what it does for your bench. A willingness. That’s one of the hardest jobs in hockey I’ll tell you right now. You talk to the guys that do it. That’s a really, really tough job. And he energized our bench. Having the lead, he’s willing to do what he does it at the right time. Tremendous effort by him and he played really good hockey.”
- Korpisalo earned his first win in a start since Jan 30, 2022. He made 32 saves while looking in control most of the night. He gave his team a much needed boost. Do not be surprised if he gets the call Saturday night on Long Island. This feels like a hot-hand approach.
- Gaudreau now has six goals this season, all at Nationwide Arena. “I must like playing here, playing in front of these fans. I’m enjoying my time here so far so hopefully I keep scoring here for them.”
- Tortorella was spotted postgame leaving the locker room areas without doing postgame. Brad Shaw handled postgame for the Flyers. Perhaps it was an indication of how frustrating the game was from a Flyers’ perspective.
- During the first period, Tortorella got honored by the Blue Jackets on the video board. He waved to the crowd afterwards. It was all cheers as expected for their greatest coach in franchise history.
Related: Flyers’ Tortorella Defends Larsen Over Blue Jackets’ Poor Start
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.