R.J. Umberger and Steve Mason are a big reason why the Jackets are back in the playoff hunt this month. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
With the trade deadline at 3pm on February 28th, it's worth taking a minute to check on the status of the team and some of the key players in February.
First, let's look at the month to date:
Feb 1 - 7: Coming into the all star break with a run of 8 points in 6 games, the Jackets looked shaky (to put it politely) in their 7-4 loss against the Blackhawks to resume the season, but after a few days of hard practices, the team turned it around with a sparkling performance on the weekend, shutting out Detroit in Joe Louis Arena for the first time in franchise history before coming home the next night and winning a thrilling come from behind victory against the Oilers.
Feb 8-14: In an effort to get a little back after one of their worst losses this season, the Jackets traveled to the Steel City, where they defeated a banged up Pittsburgh squad 4-1, despite a nasty play by Matt Cooke that put d-man Fedor Tyutin at risk. Despite roaring out to a 2-0 lead in a game the next night against the San Jose Sharks, the Jackets would fall flat and drop a 3-2 decision in regulation, but bounced back on Friday with a dominant 3-1 win over the Avalanche, and finished the week with a 2-1 victory in Dallas thanks to some stellar goaltending by Steve Mason, and goals from Matt Calvert and Rick Nash.
Our prediction for the month of February was for the team to go 6-4-2. At this point, the Jackets are 5-2-0 heading into the final five games of the month, and four points out of a playoff spot. The team has three more home games against the Kings, Predators, and Coyotes, and a pair of road games against Central division opponents (Nashville and Chicago) to help boost them in the standings, with the final game of the month in Nashville on the afternoon of the 27th.
On to the players...
R.J. Umberger - Though he's second for overall scoring on the team with 41 points (and on pace to beat his previous career high of 55), Umby is leading the team for the month of February so far with 9 points (2G, 7A). The man who is most frequently described as the heart of the team, it's clear he's pushing them as hard as he can to make a run. Total stats for the month: 2G 7A, 4 PIM, +3
Rick Nash - The team's leading scorer overall, the captain has continued a balanced attack in the month of February with three goals and three assists, including his highlight reel GWG against Dallas. 3G, 3A 4 PIM, +1
Derick Brassard - Brass seems to finally be blossoming into the player the team hoped he would be all season, showing greater patience with the puck and dominating in the faceoff circle. What's a bit more surprising is the way he's been in and out of the box all month - Brass has more PIMs this month than anyone else on the squad! 2G, 3A 21 PIM, +1
Kristian Huselius - A benching against Detroit seems to have finally lit the fuse on Juice, and he's been burning up the ice ever since, though his defensive lapses have still come back to bite the team on occasion. 3G, 2A, 2 PIM, +/- of 0
Jakub Voracek - If Voracek is really on the trading block as Scott Howson tries to improve his team, the RFA is making a decent audition this month, but he'd be even more dangerous if he could bury a few more of his chances. 1G, 3A 8 PIMs, +1
Antoine Vermette - Along with his linemates, Vermette has been coming along strong this month, including the GWG against Detroit and the nail in the coffin against Pittsburgh. 2G, 2A 4 PIM, +3
Jan Hejda - Though he has struggled at times in Scott Arniel's system, it's been a good month for the Czech defenseman, with four assists and a team high +6 rating in February. 4A, 2 PIM, +6
Fedor Tyutin - Another d-man on the rise, Tyutin has been on fire since he sat for a game in early January (he's now 6th in overall scoring for the club, and the top scoring d-man) and managed to go without collecting a single penalty before getting hit for 3 minors in Dallas. 3A, 6 PIM, +/- of 0
Samuel Pahlsson - The veteran checking center is making a good case for why he's playing against some of the most skilled guys in the league, including shutting down players like Joe Thorton, Matt Duchene, and Henrik Zetterburg. 2G, 1A, 0 PIM, +3
Anton Stralman - As Tom over at Dark Blue Jacket put it, how does Stralman spell motivation? M-O-O-R-E. Since being benched to give the young prospect a look against Edmonton, Stralman's been playing like his life depended on it. (And since Stralman is one of the RFAs Scott Howson could look to move at the deadline, perhaps it does...) 0G, 3A 0 PIM, +3
Kris Russell - Though Russell has failed to take off in Arniel's system the way many expected him to, it's been a pretty decent month for him, and his play has continued to improve as he's been paired with Grant Clitsome. 3A, 2 PIM, +3
Grant Clitsome - Currently competing with Matt Calvert for "best AHL callup this season", Clitsome's ability to move the puck and shoot on net around defenders has been a big boost to the team's power play since he came up in January. 1G 2A, 2 PIM, +3
Derek MacKenzie - Though he has been in and out of the lineup, D-Mac has been a reliable fourth line player, and has found some solid success this month. 1G 2A, 2 PIM, +2
Matt Calvert - Since being called up in January, Calvert has contributed some impressive goals, and continued that streak with the tying goal in Dallas yesterday. 2G 1A, 0 PIM +2
Derek Dorsett - Though concerns about his health after a nasty fall may keep him out of the lineup, the agitator had been providing a strong spark both with his fists and his contributions to the score sheet. 1G 1A, 16 PIMs, +1
Andrew Murray - Another player who has been out of the lineup on a regular basis, he stepped in after Dorsett's injury and has turned in solid games in Dallas and Detroit this month. 1G 1A, 0PIM +2
Jared Boll - Aside from three fights this month, Boll also contributed a big goal to take a 2-0 lead on the Red Wings. 1 G, 15 PIM, +1
Marc Methot - Though he has not been able to contribute offensively, Methot has been one of d-men getting the heaviest minutes, particularly on the PK. 7 PIM, +/- rating of 0
John Moore - Though he looked serviceable in his one game this month, Moore's lack of playing time has lead to questions about why he was brought up if he won't be able to get on the ice. 0 PIM, -1
Steve Mason - Though there have been complaints about his losses vs. Chicago and San Jose, his play for the month has been surprisingly good - 4-2, 1.72 GAA, .941 SV%
Mathieu Garon - His save percentage was thrown off by a bad relief outing against the Blackhawks, but his game vs. Colorado helped considerably. 1-0, 1.00 GAA, .860 SV%
If there's an MVP for the month, it's clearly Umberger, but Mason's numbers don't lie - the kid has been damned good of late. The question is if he can keep this up as the pressure continues to build up Mason and the team around him.
The team will only play twice this week, leaving three critical games in the final week before the deadline. If they can bring home at least two wins in that stretch (or even a win and a few OT points), this team will have come all the way back after a midseason slump, and I would expect Scott Howson to be in the "buyer" category.