The Columbus Blue Jackets just completed their most successful November in franchise history - piling up eight wins. They entered the month with a 2-10 record and head into December at 10-15. While 16 points out of 13 games is good enough for 100 points over an 82-game season, it is not quite at the pace they need to make the playoffs for this season given the 0-8 start. Still, it is a pretty drastic turnaround given the beginning of the season.
As a reminder, the stock report in October looked bleak. As you can tell from the above trend in the overall record, it was hard to find positives, or "buys," at the end of October. It looks like the CBJ market is trending up.
- Team defense / shot blocking. We all knew this was coming when John Tortorella took over as head coach. The man preaches defense and shot blocking. The Jackets are blocking four more shots per game under Torts. That is four less shots for Bobrovsky or McElhinney to save. The CBJ are blocking 25% of opponent's shot attempts under Tortorella. It may hurt, it might sting (and it may send you to IR), but shot blocking is part of this team's identity right now.
-Brandon Dubinsky. Yes, Dubi endured two weeks on the IR with an elbow infection and ended November on a one-game suspension, but the alternate captain put up five points (1G, 4A) in the six games he did appear on the ice. His ice time has increased under Torts as the head coach trusts him in all situations. Dubinsky has kept his penalties down all season (just 10 PIM) and is the lone center on the team above 50% in the faceoff circle right now. He also had a slick set up for the game winner against the Penguins in OT. Dubi is a leader on this team and he has been delivering in nearly every facet of the game.
-Boone Jenner. If you're talking about heaving a positive impact this season, Boone Jenner's name has to be right up there alongside Dubinsky. Jenner started off on a tear with six goals in the first ten games. He added to that in November with 9 points in 13 games - 5G / 4A. His 11 goals are good for top 10 in the league with the likes of Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin. He is making good use of his time on the power play with four goals coming on the man advantage. Jenner had 2-2-4 on the PP in November. The alternate captain is shooting at 17.2% on the season, meaning it is certainly plausible that he can keep this pace up should he continue to generate shots.
-Brandon Saad. The top line forward started the season strong but has really picked up his game the last month. Saad put up a line of 5-6-11 in the 13 November games, including a couple more tallies on the power play. His ice time has been all over the place under Tortorella. He is on a 30 goal / 50+ point pace.
-Scott Hartnell. The "old vet" of the team continues to produce. Hartnell had 5 goals and 4 assists for 9 points in the month of November. Until the San Jose loss, he was also keeping his penalties down. Hartnell is on a similar scoring pace as Saad (they actually have the same 9-7-16 line so far) and has been all over the lineup with the injuries hitting. His 18% shooting percentage would be by far the highest of his career.
-Ryan Johansen. Amidst potential trade talks and a mysterious illness earlier in the season, The Johan is finally rounding into form. Johansen's shooting percentage has ticked back up towards the norm (he shot 17.2% in November compared to 3.7% in October). He has five goals in his last eight games. Joey was the leading point scorer in November for the CBJ, with 5-7-12. His faceoff percentage is trending up as well (now 48.3% on the season). Whatever was ailing him earlier, Johansen looks to be back in #1 center form.
-Sergei Bobrovsky. In net, Bob had about the worst start you could have predicted. His play started to turn in late October, but the former Vezina winner is looking like a top 5 goalie in the league after his play in November. Bob recorded his first shutout in November (against the Preds) and posted a ridiculous .940 save percentage for the month. After allowing 35 goals in 10 starts in October, Bob allowed just 20 goals in 11 November games. Consider the corner turned in net.
-The PK. The Jackets penalty kill was flat out awful early in the season.. They are now up to 11th overall at 81.1% and they just killed an absurd 46 of 52 power play chances in November (more than 88%). Bobrovsky rounding back into form and more shot blocking are two keys to the turnaround.
-The power play. While the unit started hot in October, the power play is 0 for the last 18 in the previous 7 games. Once the strength of the team, things just are not clicking right now with the man advantage.
-Injuries. After mostly avoiding the injury bug to start the season, the Blue Jackets are heading to the training room (and hospital) more frequently now. On November 4th, David Clarkson was officially placed on IR with a back injury (ironic?). A week later Alexander Wennberg also went to IR with a foot injury. Dubinsky followed two days later with his elbow infection. Jared Boll was placed on IR with a foot injury as well on the 18th. Three days later, Cody Goloubef suffered a broken jaw and will miss significant time. In that same game, Fedor Tyutin broke his nose and has been out since then. Rene Bourque went to IR a few days after that. Finally, after making his NHL debut, Markus Hannikainen is expected to miss two months with a shoulder injury. It is starting to feel a bit like last season with the injuries.
-Alexander Wennberg. I hate to say it - and I know he has battled an injured foot this season - but Wennberg is struggling. Mightily. At some point, you need to produce. Wennberg is a paltry 36.6% in the faceoff circle, which will put you in Tort's doghouse (but not literally with his dog, since he likes dogs more than humans). In 13 games, Wennberg has a single goal with no assists, and that goal came all the way back on October 22nd. His ice time has dropped off dramatically with the new coach. Part of that has been the emergence of William Karlsson, but part of it is not playing up to expectations.
-Nick Foligno. Unfortunately, things just don't seem to be clicking for the captain right now. He registered just five assists (no goals) in November. He's shooting an absurdly low 1.6% on the season as he just has one goal through 25 games. He's barely on a 30-point pace as of right now. Tortorella has also limited his power play time given the lack of production.
-Depth players - specifically scoring. There has been a lot of shuffling over the past month with all the injuries, but Columbus is really struggling to find production beyond the top 6. As mentioned, Nick Foligno has just a single goal on the season. Gregory Campbell has 2-3-5, but as a career 50% faceoff man he is sitting at 44.1% in the dot. Calvert has 3 goals and no assists. Wennberg has a single goal. Rene Bourque has played 15 games and has a single assist. Clarkson has one assist in eight games. The blue line has scored five goals collectively. Last year, they scored 43. The Jackets simply aren't getting enough extra scoring to go along with the big guns at the top.
Well, there is your snapshot and stock report for November. While you'd love to be able to highlight everyone (Karlsson, Murray, etc.) you have to pick the best of the best. Overall, the team is trending in the right direction in the W/L column, but there is not enough consistency yet. A few too many clunkers sprinkled in between the wins. In order to push for a wild card spot, they are going to need to string together a few more wins at a time and avoid those clunkers. Still, November was a solid month for the club and they are at least within shouting distance of a wild card spot. Stay tuned as we roll into December.