Daniil Tarasov earns first NHL victory, Blue Jackets clean up details in win over Rangers

NEW YORK — Three hours before the Blue Jackets' game against the New York Rangers on Sunday, Brad Larsen didn't know how his team was going to respond after losing 6-3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday in Columbus.

The Jackets twice held two-goal leads in that game, both 2-0 and 3-1, before coming apart in the third period. And less than 24 hours later, they were set to face the Rangers, who hadn't played since Thursday, at Madison Square Garden, which is a notoriously challenging environment for the visiting team.

"We’ll find out," the Jackets' coach said when asked if they could take lessons from Saturday's game into Sunday.

Columbus took a 1-0 lead late in the first period on a goal from Zach Werenski and didn't look back from there on its way to a 5-1 win over the Rangers — a win that confirmed the Jackets did, indeed, learn from Saturday's loss and apply those learnings in Sunday's win.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

Blue Jackets clean up defensive details in Rangers win after losing to Penguins

Saturday, the Jackets and the Penguins were tied at three goals apiece heading into the third period. Then Columbus had two defensive breakdowns on faceoffs, and Pittsburgh turned them into two goals. That was the most frustrating element of the loss for Larsen, who was openly dismayed by his team's poor coverage.

"The way they scored their first two goals (in the third period) is off faceoffs," Larsen said before Sunday's game. "That’s unacceptable to me, especially the breakdowns there. That’s the frustrating part. We had some good looks earlier in that third period. We just didn't connect. We’re right there, but the mental mistake, the lack of focus in that moment, it cost us."

Despite an injury to Nick Blankenburg that caused him to leave the game after just one shift of the second period, leaving the Jackets with just five defensemen, they allowed just one goal in their strongest defensive effort of the season. Even when the Rangers applied pressure offensively, their shots tended to be from the perimeter of the ice, and not from the dangerous scoring areas in the middle or around the net.

"For the most part, we were keeping them to the perimeter and they didn’t really get to the inside," Werenski said. "Last night, there were some slot shots, rebound goals, stuff like that. I feel like as a team, we just protected the middle better and kept their chances to the outside."

The Rangers finished with 31 shots on goal and were held to just six in the third period. Their strongest push came late in the second period when they had three power plays in the final 10 minutes of the frame, including 75 seconds of a five-on-three advantage, but the defensemen blocked shots and goaltender Daniil Tarasov made multiple crucial saves that kept his team in the lead.

A night after the Jackets melted down in the final 20 minutes and allowed the Penguins' pressure to affect them deeply, they were able to maintain their composure and withstand the push from the Rangers without letting it change the outcome of the game.

"We knew it wasn’t going to be easy tonight," Andrew Peeke said. "With Blanks going down when we did, we had five D, so we had to play simple. We knew we had to manage our shift lengths, manage pucks. That was a big part of the success tonight. We got pucks behind them. They had their push, but we were able to manage that, which was huge for us."

Daniil Tarasov earns first NHL win with 30 saves against New York Rangers

It hasn't been an easy path so far in the NHL for Tarasov, who made his debut last December but only played four games before suffering an injury and eventually requiring season-ending surgery to repair a torn hip labrum. He had a .937 save percentage across those four games but lost both games in which he was the goaltender of record.

This season, Tarasov was pressed into starting duty for the season opener in Raleigh when Elvis Merzlikins came down with an illness that prevented him from playing. Tarasov allowed four goals on 43 shots as the Jackets lost 4-1. Two days later, Tarasov started against the Tampa Bay Lightning and he allowed five goals on 39 shots in a 5-2 loss.

But Sunday, after Merzlikins started Saturday's game, Tarasov got his third starting nod of the season. With 30 saves on 31 shots — and the lone goal came on a five-on-three advantage, after a turnover — Tarasov backstopped the Jackets to his first win in the NHL.

"It was amazing," Tarasov said. "It was unbelievable. For me, it’s special. Guys helped me a lot."

Peeke, Larsen and Werenski all couldn't hide their admiration for Tarasov's performance. He received the game puck from Larsen and the players' Civil War-inspired kepi hat in recognition of the win's significance both for Tarasov individually and the team as a whole.

"He was unbelievable," Peeke said. "He made some key saves in key moments. In a road game, on a back-to-back, you’re going to need that out of your goalie. There’s going to be opportunities, and he was there. He stood tall."

Tarasov seemed to have a particularly strong sense for the puck Sunday, easily snagging shots out of the air and never appearing rattled, even when the Rangers' talented players made his task challenging. He downplayed that sense, crediting his success to work in practice, but Larsen could tell his young goaltender's calmness was important throughout the night.

"He was just very calm," Larsen said. "He made tough saves look very easy tonight. That helped. You’re playing three in four and we’re on a back to back and an early game. ... Your goaltender can make you very calm, just by body language and how he’s making saves."

Liam Foudy tallies two assists in first appearance for Blue Jackets this season

Forward Justin Danforth suffered an upper body injury Saturday and was out for the conclusion of the back-to-back set, so Liam Foudy drew into the lineup after being a healthy scratch in the previous six games. It was Foudy's first meaningful game, excluding the preseason games he played this fall, since Jan. 30, after he had a season-ending shoulder injury while playing with AHL Cleveland.

Speed is the hallmark of Foudy's game, and Larsen made it clear that he expected Foudy to utilize his speed Sunday — particularly as a fresh skater playing alongside 17 others who had played the night before.

Foudy made that impact clear early in the first period. On two shifts in a row, he broke past his defender up the wing and pushed toward the net for a scoring chance. And late in the period, he picked up the primary assist on Werenski's goal for his first of two points.

"He played really well, even from the beginning when they were kind of coming at us early in the game," Werenski said. "He had that one shift where he took the puck all the way around the D and took it to the net. He used his speed, so I thought from the second he came in, he was motivated. It looked like his legs were moving."

The second assist came on Chinakhov's goal midway through the second period that pushed the Jackets' lead to three goals. Foudy skated a total of 13:23 and had a plus-2 rating.

"He had great legs," Larsen said. "You could tell, first period, he was challenging the D-men with his legs. He gets to the net on a second opportunity and gets a couple assists, was a plus player. That’s a big night for us."


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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Blue Jackets at New York Rangers takeaways, Daniil Tarasov