Reasons for Optimism

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Jackets have been on a real skid lately. I offer up some hope for this season.

The Jackets have gone 3-5-2 in their last ten games, and currently sit last in the Metro Division with an overall record of 6-10-2. If not for the retooling/rebuilding Sabres and Panthers, the Jackets would be the worst team in the Eastern Conference, and we're almost at the quarter pole of the season.

But you already knew that.

The good thing thus far is that, generally speaking, the Jackets have not been completely outplayed. Sure, there were stinkers against the Capitals and Senators among the ten regulation losses this year, but in the other eight regulation losses and two overtime defeats, the Jackets were competitive and kept things close.

The three nemeses for the Jackets thus far have been the Caps, Bruins and Penguins.This trio of teams have combined to go 6-0 against Columbus this season, and if you're looking for some optimism, these three teams are among the elite of the Eastern Conference, so losing to them isn't like losing to teams you should absolutely defeat. Right? I know, small consolation. Bear with me.

In the other six losses, the Jackets were defeated by the Flames, Red Wings, Canadiens, Ducks, Senators and Rangers. Half of those losses were one-goal games. Two more were one goal games with the opposition scoring an empty-netter. The last loss was the aforementioned stinker against the Sens, where Curtis McElhinney looked shaky, at best.

The six victories this season have been for the most part against quality competition. The Jackets have beaten the division rival Isles twice, and have wins over New Jersey, Buffalo, Vancouver and Toronto. The latter two wins being far from automatic.

From a personnel perspective, there have been signs that not all is lost. Brandon Dubinsky is having a breakout season. You can see game-by-game that he is laying it all on the line for his team, winning battles, putting up points, doing it all. It's almost offensive that this effort, not to mention the way he takes responsibility for the team in the media, isn't solidified and honored by giving him the role of team Captain. Maybe some day we'll find out why Richards has been putting it off, but until then, I look at it as a complete distraction and disservice.

The Ryans- that is, Johansen and Murray, have been terrific. Johansen has arrived as a top-line center- he's taken the next step toward becoming the big, strong pivot that every team covets. Murray has been the team's most reliable defenseman. While I'm not ignorant to the fact that Murray's success may be partially due to the struggles of his cohorts on defense, he nonetheless deserves full credit for his steady play, willingness and ability to pinch offensively, and his calming influence on the ice. One also can't forget that he's got one of the toughest assignments in all of hockey- covering for James Wisniewski. All of this at just 20 years old.

Maintaining the positive outlook, the fill-in players and grinders have contributed with energy and work ethic. Michael Chaput may be the logical successor to Derek MacKenzie when the latter's contract expires at season's end, and Sean Collins has been a good soldier when needed. Jared Boll, contract aside, brings required toughness. That's his job, and he does it well. Blake Comeau's done admirably as well, though a slight up-tick in production would be welcome.

Nick Foligno, who's obviously more than a grinder, has been great, when in the lineup. It's important to send the Folignos all the positive vibes and support you can.

Marian Gaborik, Artem Anisimov and Cam Atkinson putting up points is crucial to the team's success. Right now, they're struggling, and the team's record is partially reflecting that. Gaborik's one of the streakiest players you'll find, so there's hope that his next scoring binge will start at any moment. Anisimov is currently Gaborik's setup man, so when Gaborik starts to heat up Arty should as well, even if just by proxy. Cam's in a great situation playing with Dubinsky and Johansen, he's far too talented to not score.

One final glimmer, dare I say, nuclear flash, of hope is the imminent return to the lineup of Boone Jenner and Matt Calvert, and the debut of offseason prize Nathan Horton. Jenner and Calvert aren't going to fix the scoring woes, but it will bring stability and a ton of energy to the lineup. The thought of a line of Horton playing right wing alongside Johansen and Dubinsky does more than give me hope for the short-term future of the team, it makes me damned giddy.

Amid all of the frustration and "same old Jackets", what I'm attempting to do here is give a glass half-full look at the situation. It's not fun right now, but all is not lost. There are good things to come, and though we are creeping toward December, the season is still early enough (and the Metro Division bad enough) that there is time to right the ship.

Hang in there CBJ fans.

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