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The Blue Jackets Are Fun Again — My Column

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have won four of their last six, boast the best penalty kill unit in the NHL since Dec. 1, and firmly control their destiny as we recap the team heading into the bye week.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Rangers Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

First off, I want to give props to THE captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nick Foligno.

As you will recall, I questioned whether he was the right fit to wear the “C”, mainly pending a potential postseason, or lack thereof, failure. Just a ‘what if, maybe there’s a leadership change that needs to happen?’ type of pondering.

Well, that second article, which went into greater depths to explain my reasoning nearly coincided with Foligno’s daughter, Milana, having to undergo a planned surgery. Hockey season, of course continues on, regardless of the curveballs life can throw at any of us.

The Blue Jackets continued on, beating the Senators on New Year’s Eve, losing to the Hurricanes four nights later, finding a way to win at the Panthers the next night, getting walloped by the best team in the league Lightning, dealing with the Sergei Bobrovsky ‘incident’ before carving out impressive victories against the first place Predators, Capitals, and outlasting the Rangers.

So, I pondered Foligno, mainly just being curious about whether the captain was basically out of answers, or feeling the weight of the teams’ struggles on his back when things got rough. I never once questioned his attitude, heart and desire on the ice. He makes a presence when he plays. He’s emotional and uses that to his advantage. You know he’s ready to drop the gloves when the need arises. Those are traits of not just your average NHLer, but indeed the type of player you want in your captain.

And, while the Blue Jackets fought through the slogfest that is the Hurricanes, maybe still getting back into their NHL mindset after the days off and New Year’s celebrations — or not — and dealing with the best team in the NHL, there was a notable absence without Foligno on the ice. It might not seem like a big deal if you know you have your team point leader in Artemi Panarin, your leading goal-scorer in Cam Atkinson, a talent like Pierre-Luc Dubois anchoring the two stud wingers, and the next-man up mentality that comes with losing a starter from the lineup, but Foligno is surely one that you’d rather have in the lineup than not.

You saw some of that attitude and snarl against the Predators. He made his presence felt as he is apt to do.

The Blue Jackets are fun

I’m also at that point in the season where Blue Jackets are making me excited. But I’m still reminded of the flaws surrounding this team — some of that clearly showing against the Canadiens and Wild the last two nights.

And whether that be a power play that actually shows glimpses of breaking out, before looking utterly hopeless most other times, lack of secondary scoring, which, even though they have been able to find a nice balance across their lines, how does that really compare to the Penguins and Lightning’s of the world in a seven-game series? (It doesn’t). And the propensity for blowing leads lately. But the team is in a good place in the standings (59 points at the bye), and that’s something that is nice to see, without worrying too much about their potential fate right now.

We longed for these days.

And yes, I remain steadfast in that the Jackets must make noise in the playoffs. Advancing one round is progress. But, I admit how much fun this latest 12-5-1 run over the last 18 games has been. And when I remember the days of a lost team in the standings by New Year’s, well, this is a good team. It’s taken a while, but we have a consistent playoff contender on our hands. Now it’s taking that next step to being a Stanley Cup contender.

I’m speaking directly from what’s on my mind regarding Foligno, this club, and their play of late. I know what I’ve said before, and while the focus is still the same, you still have to take stock in the rainbow after the storm.

I like how this team has seemingly responded on the outset of the incident regarding Bobrovsky. As Jarmo Kekalainen, John Tortorella, and leaders like Seth Jones have alluded in follow up, the team seems to be tighter unit since then. It’s a small sample size and being a cohesive unit, through thick and thin, might not be enough to mask glaring on-ice issues and inconsistencies, but it’s better seeing the positives of a group following any adversity.

Right now, as of this writing on Sunday, Jan. 19, the Jackets would play the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs. That would be a fun rivalry rematch. Earlier in the week, they were second in the East, and would have matched up with the Canadiens in the first round, which would represent the first out-of-division matchup the Jackets ever faced in the playoffs.

Not taking anything away from the Canadiens, but that matchup — Friday night aside — on paper, figures to lend itself a potentially more favorable quarterfinals fetch than Pittsburgh and Washington. The Blue Jackets are the only team not to advance out of the first round of the playoffs, and playing in arguably the toughest division, and losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion each of the last two seasons, you have to like the idea of playing any other team, not named Tampa Bay or possibly a Toronto, in the first round. Just one point out of second place in the East, there’s a chance.

The Hipster Line

We knew how great Panarin - Dubois - Atkinson was. Now the rest of the national media and NHL are really finding that fact out. On Friday, Dimitri Filipovic ran a piece through ESPN crunching the numbers on the best lines around the league, and they showed the line, referred to in the article as ‘The Hipster Line.’

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not only a positive that the line runs so fluidly, but you have to figure that bit of success has to run high on the mind of Panarin, who is always smiling and showcasing happy exuberance on the ice with his Blue Jackets teammates. He could opt to make that a long-term thing.

The Hipster Line 5v5

Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% MDCF MDCA MDCF% MDGF MDGA MDGF% LDCF LDCA LDCF% LDGF LDGA LDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% MDCF MDCA MDCF% MDGF MDGA MDGF% LDCF LDCA LDCF% LDGF LDGA LDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Artemi Panarin Pierre-Luc Dubois Cam Atkinson 45 498:03 523 439 54.37 427 332 56.26 308 244 55.8 39 25 60.94 270 201 57.32 102 75 57.63 19 11 63.33 168 126 57.14 14 9 60.87 220 201 52.26 6 4 60 12.66 89.75 1.024 265 208 46 85.21

Numbers

  • 100%That’s the Blue Jackets Penalty Kill unit percentage in January.
  • 54-for-60 Since Dec. 1 the Blue Jackets PK is first in the league (88.9%).
  • 20-for-20 — Blue Jackets are the only perfect team in January on the penalty kill.
  • 27 goals Cam Atkinson only needs 14 goals to surpass Rick Nash’s franchise single-season total.
  • 114 — The number of goals scored 5v5 by the Blue Jackets this season, fourth among all teams in the NHL, trailing only the Lightning (125), Sharks (120), Penguins (117), and tied with the Maple Leafs (114). Their xGF (98.9) ranks ninth, and just ahead of the Lightning (96.11).
  • 31st The Blue Jackets Power play (74-for-480) since Jan. 1, 2017, the worst in the league for over two seasons.
  • 0 goals last 31 gamesAlexander Wennberg (10 assists, 33 shots since Nov. 12).