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March 2018: Month in Review

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Jackets got red hot at exactly the right time

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Previously: October, November, December, January, February

RESULTS

L 2-5 @ LAK
L 2-4 @ ANA
W 4-2 @ SJS
W 4-1 vs. VGK
W 5-4 (OT) vs. COL
W 3-2 vs. DET
W 5-2 vs. MTL
W 5-3 @ PHI
W 2-1 vs. OTT
W 5-4 (OT) @ BOS
W 5-3 @ NYR
W 4-0 vs. FLA
L 1-2 vs. STL
W 7-3 @ EDM
W 5-1 @ CGY
L 4-5 (OT) @ VAN

No one expected another 16 game win streak, but damned if this team didn’t come close. With that 10 game win streak, the Columbus Blue Jackets became just the third team in NHL history to have win streaks of 10 or more games in consecutive seasons.

That streak came at exactly the right time, as every team in the Eastern Conference playoff race has been nearly as hot. That loss in Anaheim had some thinking the season was over. Then everything just started to click. An important part of this streak were big wins over the teams with which we are competing for playoff position, Philadelphia and Florida.

STANDINGS

At the start of the month, the Jackets were in the second wild card position, with Florida coming quick on their heels. Through the final games of March, they have risen to third place in the Metro Division, just two points behind Pittsburgh for the all-important home ice advantage in the first round. They sit two points ahead of Philadelphia, three points head of New Jersey, and eight points ahead of Florida.

STATS

March Stats

Stat Mar. Rank Feb. Rank Jan. Rank Dec. Rank Nov. Rank Oct. Rank
Stat Mar. Rank Feb. Rank Jan. Rank Dec. Rank Nov. Rank Oct. Rank
Goals For 63 1 35 21 18 31 40 13 31 21 36 t-13
Goals Allowed 42 12 35 t-11 25 23 52 30 27 5 30 t-6
Power Play % 18.6 17 21.2 16 26.1 7 15.7 20 9.4 30 8.6 31
Penalty Kill % 82.9 t-11 74.2 25 57.1 31 77.1 24 82.8 t-9 84.4 6
5v5 Shooting % 10.7 1 6.8 t-22 4.1 31 7.3 18 7.5 15 7.7 18
5v5 Save % 92.8 12 91.6 t-18 96.3 1 90.4 29 94.1 t-3 92.8 t-8
5v5 PDO 103.5 3 98.4 t-24 100.4 19 97.7 27 101.6 t-6 100.6 16
5v5 Corsi For % 50.96 10 55.8 3 49.75 19 48.6 22 51.54 11 53.75 4

The Jackets had a goal explosion in this month, driven in part by a league-leading shooting percentage. We have been waiting all season for their shot production leading to these kinds of scoring results.

Another big improvement is the penalty kill, finally returning to its early season numbers.

THREE STARS

Third Star: New Guys

Last month in this space I gave credit to Jarmo Kekalainen for what appeared to be a successful trade deadline, but I didn’t have much to go on (except for Mark Letestu’s goal against Washington in his debut). Letestu has been a solid depth forward, and ace faceoff man (53.1%), but it’s the other two that have had a greater impact. Ian Cole has done wonders for defensive depth. He has helped David Savard regain his form as a shutdown defender. Thomas Vanek, meanwhile, was mostly quiet for the first week, but since then has exploded into the scorer we’ve expected, with 7 goals and 7 assists in March. His linemates Boone Jenner (6/6/12) and Alexander Wennberg (2/9/11) have greatly improved from their early season struggles.

Second Star: Hats

In a span of 5 road games, 4 different Blue Jackets players recorded hat tricks: Cam Atkinson vs. the Flyers, Artemi Panarin vs. the Rangers, Thomas Vanek vs. the Oilers, and rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois vs. the Flames. This came after no hat tricks in the first 70 games of the season, and none since Scott Hartnell’s hatty vs. the Pens in December 2016.

First Star: Seth Jones

Jones continues to shine as a leader both on and off the ice. Despite missing three games with an upper body injury, he still managed to score 7 goals and 7 assists in 13 games. He had the game winning goal in three straight games during the win streak (Colorado, Detroit, Montreal). He is having the best season ever by a Columbus defenseman.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

Power Play: A success rate of 18.6% isn’t terrible, but there were 10 straight road games without a power play goal. Fortunately there were PPGs in the final two games of the month, so perhaps they’re getting back on track. This is worth watching in the postseason.

Injuries: The Blue Jackets played the entire month without Josh Anderson. His scoring carried the team in the early months, and he should be a big addition to the lineup when he returns, even if the only spot for him is on the fourth line. Captain Nick Foligno was finally playing much better before suffering a lower body injury of his own. This tested our center depth. Hopefully he won’t have to miss the start of the playoffs.

Jack Johnson and Brandon Dubinsky: While formerly struggling players like Jenner, Foligno, Atkinson, and Wennberg regained their form in March, Johnson and Dubinsky did not. Each finally found himself a healthy scratch late in the month. It seems certain that Johnson will not be re-signed this summer, and now Dubi’s future with the club may be in doubt as well.