We’re a little more than two weeks into the hockey season and Columbus Blue Jackets fans should have little reason to complain (not that you can’t, of course). One loss to a hot Blackhawks team and four wins, including three in the Metropolitan Division? Sign us up. This team lost its first eight games two years ago, as if you could forget.
What’s next? The Blue Jackets will play their next nine games outside the Metro after kicking off a 10-game stretch Saturday at Minnesota. They’ll stay on the road for Tuesday night’s game at Winnipeg before returning to Nationwide for a four-game homestand that begins on Thursday against Tampa Bay.
@ Winnipeg Jets – Tuesday, 8 p.m.
3-2-0, 4th in Central
The Jets recovered an 0-2 start by rattling off three wins against Edmonton, Vancouver and Carolina, scoring 11 goals over those three games. Not too shabby. Connor Hellebuyck enters the week with a .937 save percentage, coming up huge as the Jets managed 20 and 21 shots against Vancouver and Carolina, respectively. They’ve only converted twice on 19 power plays and have killed 71.4 percent of power plays, so they’ll be looking to improve on those flagging special teams Tuesday night. Nikolaj Ehlers leads the team with five goals and seven points, something we all definitely saw coming prior to the season. We’ll have more in our game preview tomorrow.
vs. Tampa Bay Lightning - Thursday, 7 p.m.
4-1-0, 2nd in Atlantic
A hot preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup, the Lightning bring a 4-1 record into the week before playing road games at Detroit and New Jersey tonight and Tuesday. Like Winnipeg, they’ve won their last three straight (all at home) following a 5-4 loss at Florida on October 7. Who’ve they beaten? Oh, just Washington, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Nobody special. They rank sixth in the league in scoring, though Andrei Vasilevskiy’s .911 save percentage and 3.20 goals against average aren’t mind-blowing this early in the season. Nikita Kucherov has scored a team-leading five goals, but they have four players with at least seven points, including captain Steven Stamkos. We’ll see how they fare with two straight on the road and a day of rest before facing the Jackets on Thursday.
vs. Los Angeles Kings – Saturday, 7 p.m.
4-0-1, 1st in Pacific
The Kings have yet to lose in regulation, squeezing past the Islanders at home last night. The lone blemish came against Calgary in overtime last week and they’ve beaten Buffalo and the Isles since then. Their schedule hasn’t been the strongest, but hey, they don’t make that. Los Angeles hosts Montreal on Wednesday before kicking off a road swing Saturday at Columbus. Anze Kopitar (did you know the Jackets could’ve drafted him?) leads the team with eight points and shares the goal lead with Dustin Brown, at four. The Kings are older but chugging along early on, killing 95 percent of their penalties and getting a combined .939 save percentage from Jonathan Quick (3-0-1) and Darcy Kuemper (1-0).
Notes and Observations
You’d maybe like him to have more than one goal, but his seven points pace the team and he’s been a key factor in a couple of those wins. He basically forced Alexander Wennberg to score the overtime game-winner on Saturday and his only goal against New York held up as the game-winner in that one. His skill is painfully obvious when he carries the puck. He’s an all-world talent who will understandably need more than five games to jell with new linemates, but early returns have been promising.
It’s not putting too fine a point on it to say that as Bobrovksy goes, so go the Jackets. Luckily for Columbus, he’s picked up right where he left off last season: 4-0, 1.48 GAA, .952 save percentage. He posted back-to-back 37-for-38 save performances against Carolina and New York, keeping Columbus competitive before the offense came to life.
The Third Period and Beyond
Over the CBJ’s last three wins, Columbus as outscored their opponents 7-2 in the third period and overtime. They’ve played big when it mattered most, pulling two points out of the fire trailing 4-2 on Saturday and gutting out an overtime win on the road against Carolina. On the flip side, you’d like more production in the first and second, but...
The Young Guns
Sonny Milano leads the team with four goals. Zach Werenski has four points, as does Seth Jones. Aleander Wennberg has four assists, tied for second. The young players are carrying the league’s youngest team, and it’s helped having the scoring distributed throughout the club. The team’s 16 goals place them firmly in the middle of the NHL, a number everyone would surely like to see higher. But for now, multiple young players have spread the load around and stepped up so far.
The Blue Jackets scored on their first power play of the season and zero times since, a span of 12 straight fruitless advantages. That’s a 7.7 percent clip that ranks 27th in the league. The addition of Artemi Panarin was supposed to take an already-good power play to brilliance, but we’ve yet to see evidence of that so far. It’s early, of course, but the toothless power play isn’t going to win you a ton of games. The 76.9 percent penalty kill ain’t great, either, but luckily the Jackets are averaging 8:24 penalty minutes a night (tied for sixth-fewest in the NHL).
The Blue Jackets’ 45 percent win rate at faceoff ranks 30th, just ahead of the putrid Arizona Coyotes. Nick Foligno, not normally a center, leads the club at 52 percent. Top line center Alexander Wennberg badly needs to boost his 38.4 percentage, a number that includes a 23.8 clip in the defensive zone. On the other hand, Brandon Dubinsky (who, like Foligno, is looking for his first goal), has won 10-of-16 in the offensive zone, good for 61.5 percent. Center depth has been the biggest concern for the club this season, and it’s certainly shown up in the dot.
The CBJ’s strength of schedule has been top-half, but they were lucky to get an AHL version of Minnesota and a New York team that can’t find its breezers with both hands right now. This week will be a tough test, facing three teams coming in hot with playoff (or Cup aspirations). The Jackets are also trying to figure out that bottom defensive pairing, calling up Markus Nutivaara last night from Cleveland. They’ll need the power play to start scoring and Bob to keep up his hot start, but it should be a fun week.