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Staying Even-keeled With These Blue Jackets

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are in first place, getting positive contributions from some, while still waiting for others to get going.

Columbus Blue Jackets v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

So what're our thoughts on the Columbus Blue Jackets?

I think we're all pretty happy with the overall number. First place. Five points off the league lead. That certainly is a nice start. We were shell-shocked by what was transpiring a year ago this time, the middle of an undefeated December. Another first-round April exit brought us back to our reality.

What is that reality exactly?

We know the team expects to win. Expectations are at a higher level, there's an angst when the team does not compete for a full-60, as was the case last Tuesday against New Jersey.

A sentiment perfectly summed up by Zach Werenski. "Embarrassed."

The Bar Sets Higher

The team expects playoffs, but especially, advancement. It doesn't matter that this is one of the youngest teams in the league. On the one hand, you shake your head at some of what has transpired—the confounding prolonged funk of the power play, struggling veterans (Cam Atkinson post-contract, Nick Foligno, Alexander Wennberg?)—and you either think, wait till this team starts clicking or you wait for the other shoe to drop.

I don't even know what I might be saying right now if this team doesn't wake from their first-period slumber Friday night. Or if Sergei Bobrovsky isn't, well Bobrovsky, against the Coyotes Saturday.

That 1-0 win was a perfect microcosm of this team and season to date.

The best line over recent weeks, Artemi Panarin-Pierre-Luc-Dubois-Josh Anderson, heeded Tortorella's message after Friday for a better start Saturday and scored 30 seconds in. Of course, that's the only goal and I'm happy with the win. But based on that, and the opponent, you might have been surprised at the final tally had you decided for some reason to turn away after that point.

Yes. Both goalies were fantastic. But how do the Jackets make a habit of making so many goalies look like a Vezina winner? I know, Antti Raanta is really good, but...

I'm not going to pretend some issues might not still persist. Whether that's consistency playing against top teams. Actually, let's go with that.

Doesn’t Have to Be Pretty—Just Do It

Heading into that home-and-home with New Jersey, I expected a split and win over Arizona—nothing against AZ. Before the season, few expected a December showdown against the Devils would amount to as much. But that's the reality, and maybe, they are here to stay. Regardless, a bunched Metropolitan just impacts divisional games all that much more.

(Look at the Devils now).

I realize that Columbus being in first place in December doesn't equate to anything come April. John Tortorella doesn't want to answer questions about the division or the standings placement.

He expects this team to be contending towards the top. If they weren't, obviously his tone would be worse. At the same time, he knows first place means as much now as to where the team is in the standings before Game 1 next spring. I also go back to when he talked about the differences between last season and now. Things may not fall into place as easily, and they will have to fight through real adversity at times.

A game at a time. Strive for more. While the playoffs are the real test, you want to see the little things now. Against every team, but specifically the types of teams you expect come Spring.

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

I don't need to remind you about the fancy numbers—52.68 SAT%, 100.4 PDO—to illustrate how good this team is, and can be. But some of the top teams in the league lead the charts in shot percentage and are struggling in the standings. Where would the team be without the intangibles—19-year-old Dubois centering Panarin and Anderson?

Still Another Level to Reach

But I mean, I'm still pretty encouraged by this team (how can you not?) and I still operate on a game-to-game basis. Don't get too high, don't get too low. I expect Atkinson to be that guy the Jackets locked to an extension. I do tend to think, wait till this team really gets going.

Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low. Play your game—the final 40 versus Jersey and first shift against Arizona is nice—every night.

I think when some teams have that history of success but struggle a little bit, the instant sense isn’t to panic—tell that to any fan base—but when you are a team that is still getting used to winning and becoming a consistent contender, the angst appears more suddenly. A flat effort on a given night will do that.

I am not necessarily immune from that either, but I do understand the working parts are in motion. The team knows what it needs to do. Now every man in that room has to prove it. Ultimately in the playoffs. But for now, we turn towards Tuesday versus Edmonton.