Just a quick note about the way the Jackets have been playing of late, and what the future might hold. In looking at the schedule recently, I did a quick calculation to test out a theory I have. The Jackets' long-time perceived nemesis has been scoring goals, and I don't think anyone would dispute that. In the spring, they almost made the playoffs based solely on defense.
That said, if we look at a pretty big recent sample size, we see a bit of a different trend. First and foremost, if you pull up the NHL team stats right now, the Blue Jackets currently sit 13th in the league in goals per game at 2.73. This is after 45 games, which is a fair enough sample size comparison to last season's 48 games that I can note that last season's offense generated just 2.40 goals per game, good for 25th-best in the league.
So, hmm... why, with that improvement, are the Jackets sitting at one game over NHL-.500, when they ended up seven games over last season?
You guessed it; the defense. Through 45 games, they're allowing 2.84 goals per game, which is 19th in the league. Last season? 2.40 goals per game allowed, good enough for ninth in the league. NINTH!
Here's the thing that I looked at. The Jackets had a pretty lousy November (5-8-3) that followed a lack-luster October (5-6-0). That means that, on December 1, they were sitting at 10-14-3, which was pretty... ehhhhh. Since that time, however, they've played better, going 11-6-1 in their last 18 games. A big reason for that?
(Wait for it...)
Yep, this team's offense has been a big asset over those 18 games. How much? The Jackets have been scoring at a clip of 3.14 goals per game over that span. It's not apples-to-apples, of course, but that number would be 5th-best in the NHL overall. So, this is, as you say, GOOD.
But, the biggest issue over that span has been the defense. Over that same span, the Jackets' defense has been allowing 2.70 goals per game. That's actually better than their season average, but it's not good. HOWEVER, there's been a big caveat over those 18 games: Sergei Bobrovsky has played in just three of them. He played over half of the first game in December against Tampa Bay, and then was lost to a groin injury. The Jackets threw out a smorgasbord of Curtis McElhinney and Mike McKenna for 15+ of those 18 games, and still won 11 of them.
We saw on Friday how Bobrovsky can be a difference-maker. We noted also on Friday how the home schedule over the rest of the month is favorable (though certainly not "easy").
So, the question is this: if the Jackets can continue their improved scoring (maybe not at that over-three clip, but still improved) and find a slight savings in their goals-against with Bob back in, might we not be ready for this team to finally show us what they're capable of?
Good Lord, let's hope so.