Until recently, before things began to trend upward in a positive direction for the Columbus Blue Jackets, there was quite a bit to dissect.
A porous power play — really, for nearly two full years now (30th, 15.9% since Jan. 1, 2017) — that started the season 1-for-1 and promptly fell to the bottom of the league until recently. A penalty kill that fell from ninth in 2016-17 (82.5%) to 27th (76.2%) last season, and has been in the lower-half of the league this season. Inconsistencies up and down the ice, injuries to Seth Jones and Brandon Dubinsky, bad goaltending by Sergei Bobrovsky (23 goals allowed in first six starts). But all of a sudden now, riding a five-game point streak, the Jackets sit a little prettier atop the division with 22 points.
In fact, and not taking any credit for this whatsoever, but it seems exactly about the time I wrote about the struggles of Bobrovsky, he has reclaimed his game.
Sergei Bobrovsky of the @BlueJacketsNHL improved to 3-0-0 in his last three appearances dating to Nov. 6 (1.00 GAA, .966 SV%), allowing just one goal in each contest. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/bQEnik8X7H— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) November 13, 2018
We knew he would. He is a two-time Vezina winner, after all.
As Joonas Korpisalo has held his own in net — yes, I know he gives up four goals a game — the Jackets were right to go with the hot hand while Bobrovsky figured it out. That decision to yield to Korpisalo was as much about the state of where the Jackets were at the time, trying to pile up wins, while also giving the young net-minder an opportunity. An opportunity in the wake of who knows what exactly will happen going forward with Bobrovsky’s pending UFA status.
And while I don’t claim to suggest MrSwift13 knew that calling out the Jackets’ special teams (The Special Teams for the Columbus Blue Jackets Are Terrible Under John Tortorella And It’s Time to Make Changes) would lend itself to better results, almost instantly — albeit, it’s been a week — I also won’t deny that putting something in print just seems to have that reverse effect sometimes, for better or worse.
At the writing of that article, Nov. 8, and since the Jackets went 0-for-6 on the power play in Anaheim Nov. 4, Columbus has converted on the man-advantage a season-high four-straight games. They bested the Capitals last Friday night on the scoreboard, 2-1, both goals coming as power play tallies.
Add another against the Rangers and Stars and the Jackets find themselves ... a distant 24th on the power play across the league. Well, it’s not the worst. Anymore. Going 5-for-11 over their last four games will help that overall number climb (16.4%).
For the offense as a whole, Columbus is ninth (3.22 GF/GP). Anthony Duclair is second on the team with seven goals, and has done his part to help the power play come to life, leading the team with four when up a man.
The penalty kill is 22nd (78.3%), but recent kudos over the last week goes to shutting down, and limiting, lethal power plays from the Stars (ranked 12th, 1-for-6), Capitals (2nd, 1-for-5), Rangers (16th, 0-for-2), and the Ducks (26th, 0-for-5) which started the recent trend.
The Best Defenseman You Forgot about?
Defenseman Ryan Murray (leads team with 55.4 CF%) has been sparkling for the Jackets this season, as written about by Alison Lukan of The Athletic (Subtly and consistently, Ryan Murray is a difference-maker on the Jackets’ blue line, Subscription Required). His vision, as illustrated by Lukan, and passes up ice have led to numerous scoring and offensive opportunities for the Jackets.
But also, the play of Murray jives with something I pointed out last season.
The Blue Jackets made the playoffs twice when Murray plays at least 60 games in a season (2013-14, 16-17). He only played in 44 games last season, dealing with injuries as has been the case throughout his six-seasons. So far this year, Murray (one goal, eight assists) has been healthy, playing in all 18 games to date, and has even found time lately on the first defensive pairing opposite Seth Jones.
Coincidently, the next subheading I had in that article?
Bob is Best With Rest. Yes! Which circles back to why Korpisalo has to be given more opportunities.
As important as it was to find out what you have in Korpisalo, you might also find out what you don’t have in him. Regular playing time will help determine that, and if giving up four-goals a game is more to do with Korpisalo struggling to put it all together on a consistent basis, and less to do with shaking off the rust after sitting for a week-and-a-half, well, at least we know.
At the time I thought of this topic, the Jackets were outside first place, but within distance throughout all the chronicled struggles. It was this other element that got me thinking: Last year’s Stanley Cup Champions (yes, I know) didn’t exactly start out the season on fire. They got going, as did the Penguins. But while both the Capitals and Penguins (lost six of last seven) kind of slumber their way through the early schedule, and likely will wake up, maybe this can be Columbus’ opportunity to keep pace, and actually jump on the slow starts of perineal powers.
Well, it was a mild thought.
And even while last season, as Washington found their stride, and first place by New Year’s, that team did not feel like the same juggernaut that would go on to make a serious Spring run. Well, not compared to the previous iterations of the club that fell flat.
The best teams all season — Lightning and Golden Knights — were ousted by the Capitals. Wait, this wasn’t supposed to prop the Caps up anymore. It’s simply a reason to remember that bad and tough starts to a regular season can mean little come playoff time.
Yes, I know there are so many more elements and intangibles woven into the fabric of the regular season, all 31 clubs, and what kind of rosters the Capitals have had.
But we talk about the Blue Jackets taking that next step.
In my interview with Jody Shelley before the season, he talked about the Jackets needing to take that next step right now. The skill and experience of the group in the room, and learning from the bitter adversities the club has gone through in recent memory — 0-8 start to 2015-16, losing the 2-0 series lead against the Capitals.
How many times has captain Nick Foligno talked about the players in the room feeling the hunger of so many shortcomings?
Well, it’s all out there in front of you, gentlemen. The Jackets are back on the ice Thursday against the Panthers, before a home-and-home with the Maple Leafs and a visit by the Penguins. We’ll see the mettle this team yet.