The usual line is that teams don’t make the playoffs in October (or November), but they can certainly miss them there.
The Blue Jackets have been in pretty solid control of their playoff hopes through their first eleven games, and even though a few of their losses have been incredibly frustrating, the team is still sitting at 3rd in the Metro and showing no indication of going away.
So with that said, I thought it might be worth talking about some of the things (good and bad) the team has shown so far in this young season, and where they might be headed.
Artemi Panarin Is Good At Hockey
One of the big questions after the trade of Brandon Saad was how the newly acquired Panari was going to fit into the Columbus roster, and if he could perform at an elite level without being on a line with Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews.
Though Panarin hasn’t been lighting the lamp as much as we might wish, with just one goal so far this season, he is most certainly driving this team, with just shy of a point per game pace this season.
Panarin plays fast, creates turnovers, and goes to the net like a missile, exactly what the team needed.
The question is not if Panarin will slow down - the question is how the rest of the team is going to speed up to match him.
The Power Play Sucks
This is really not news to anyone watching this team, but it bears repeating. Despite scoring an average of three goals a game, the Blue Jackets own the worst power play in the NHL this season, converting on just ten percent of their opportunities. There’s been a distinct lack of net pressure and a lot of what Torts has criticized as “cute” plays. Passing, not shots. Trying to run the attack through the blue line, but not having players around the crease to redirect the puck or capitalize on rebounds.
It’s fantastic that the team is winning, don’t get me wrong, but they need to be making things happen with the man advantage, particularly if they expect to be a playoff team.
The one bright spot for special teams is the PK is just as fantastic as the PP is terrible, but it would be nice to find a little balance there.
The Kids Are Alright
Sonny Milano leads the club in goal scoring. Alexander Wennberg and Seth Jones are tied behind Panarin for scoring, with Zach Werenski and Josh Anderson not far behind.
Pierre-Luc Dubois hasn’t gotten to light the lamp since his fantastic solo effort on opening night, but it’s not for lack of trying, and his performance alongside Zac Dalpe and Milano has been solid, with the club giving him a vote of confidence on Friday night when he dressed for his 10th NHL game.
This is not meant to dismiss the contributions of vets like Foligno, Dubi, or Cam Atkinson (and yes, believe it or not, little Cam is one of our veterans now). They’re all doing good things, too, but almost every prediction for this team having success this season hinged on “if the kids play well”, and they’re holding up their end of the bargain.
It seems hard to believe after games like Friday’s comedy of errors against the Jets, but the Blue Jackets are actually one of the least penalized teams so far. At an average of six PIMs / game, the only team coming in with less time in the box is the Hurricanes - and as we mentioned, with an 89% PK, when the Jackets do find themselves shorthanded they’ve done an excellent job of keeping their opponents from capitalizing on the opportunity.
In previous seasons, it seemed like the Blue Jackets would be an unstoppable juggernaut in Nationwide Arena but fail to pick up points when they swapped their Union Blues for Road White, or come in and tear up the ice all over the NHL, but fail to connect for the home crowds.
This season has been different. 4 wins at home, 3 wins on the road, and if things go well in Boston on Monday, they may just balance the scale once again.
If this team can continue to keep an even keel and find ways to win regardless of their surroundings, it’s another sign of how they’ve worked to take the next step - and for more success to come.