Though the Jackets are slightly past the quarter point of the season, playing in their 23rd game of the season tonight against the Blues, it's a good time to take a look at the positives within the organization thus far, in what has been a trying start to the season.
1) Let's start with the team's recent record. The Jackets have earned a point in six of their past seven games, going 4-1-2 in that stretch. The only loss was to Minnesota, in a game where the Jackets were the better team for a majority of the game, but two quick second period goals-against allowed the Wild to tie the game and go on to take the win. These seven games are hopefully an indication of what's to come. The team has been relatively healthy, with all of their star players in the lineup. The special teams are much improved, and all players on the roster are contributing.
2) Curtis Sanford. Originally pegged as the team's third goalie, Sanford was expected to bring a veteran presence to the Springfield Falcons, acting as a mentor to rookie Allen York. With a preseason injury to backup Mark Dekanich, Sanford made the team out of camp, but suffered an injury in practice before he was able to make a start. He recently returned from injury, and was given an opportunity to start. He hasn't looked back, and has been the catalyst behind the team's recent success. His confident play has transferred to the skaters in front of him. During the recent stretch, Steve Mason suffered a practice injury himself. He returns to the lineup tonight, but Sanford will continue to carry the load for the Jackets.
3) Like all of his teammates, rookie Ryan Johansen started the season slowly. He was in and out of the lineup, but after putting up three game winning goals in the Jackets' first three victories of the season, he has become a fixture on the second line. He has improved in every game, and his playmaking skills are becoming more and more evident.
4) When the team was at its lowest, GM Scott Howson didn't panic. Rather than cleaning house (both with the roster and coaching staff) he picked up the phone and started to look for upgrades to the team. He made two deals- acquiring Mark Letestu from the Penguins for a fourth round pick and Nikita Nikitin from the Blues for Kris Russell. Russell's development had plateaued, and Nikitin has done nothing but impress since arriving in Columbus. He has brought strong, steady play to the blueline, and has showcased his heavy, accurate shot. His shot alone has seen him get major minutes with the second powerplay unit. He also has five assists in his seven games as a Jacket. Letestu has been impressive as well, locking down the second line center spot, allowing Antoine Vermette to move to the wing on the third line. Vermette has been very impressive since the move, and Letestu has scored three goals (two on the powerplay) in eight games since the trade.
5) Vinny Prospal. Easily the team's first quarter MVP. I don't want to say that he was an after-thought this past summer, but his signing didn't receive the attention of the Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski deals. He has been the Jackets' most consistent producer since the first game of the year, and currently leads the team in goals and points. He played in his 1000th NHL game this past Friday.
6) Grant Clitsome. While his play in the defensive zone has made fans cringe at times, he has been a consistent offensive threat. He's the team's highest scoring blueliner, with 3-7-10 in 21 games. He and Nikitin form a nice pair on the second powerplay unit, with Clitsome setting the table.
7) The Jackets' inability to strike gold with their first round picks is well documented. That's why when on draft day in June, nobody was really shocked when Howson traded former first rounder Nikita Filatov to the Ottawa Senators. Filatov had been a headache off the ice, and wasn't able to crack the lineup on a regular basis. Columbus received a third round pick from the Sens,and used the pick on Notre Dame forward T.J. Tynan. While it's too early to call a victor in this deal, Filatov has been back and forth from the Sens to their AHL team in Binghamton, while Tynan is near the top of the Division 1 scoring charts. He was leading the nation in scoring for a large part of the first quarter, and currently sits fourth in the country with 23 points in 16 games, two points behind the scoring leader.
8) The goaltending pipeline for the Jackets is relatively thin, but one prospect is having a terrific start to the season. Mathieu Corbeil plays for the powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs, and is well on his way to a record setting season. At present, he leads the QMJHL in wins, GAA, shutouts and is near the top of the league in save percentage.
Though the Jackets have been playing much better of late, they have the fewest points in the league and are likely out of the mix for a playoff spot. That said, there is reason for optimism again in Jacket land.