Up, down, all around with everything in between. Injuries and illnesses and shutout wins against the Capitals with overtime losses to the Senators, the Blue Jackets are spiraling in all directions at all times!
At least they’re not boring lately.
Just when it looked like things were headed towards the NHL basement, the team has ripped off three-straight wins in the middle of a six-game points streak. Just when I was about to start this off with wins and losses be damned, I just want something to be happy about with this team, the Jackets do what they are doing now.
The playoffs were considered a long shot before training camp even got underway, and they still are, even more so, but the general vibe around the organization — the chatter of GM Jarmo Kekäläinen down to the fanbase — was the prosperous star potential of the budding youth. At the very least, I get the sense that there’s at least a fun core built within he befuddled Blue Jackets system that, should, get better as time goes this season.
We saw some of that against the Capitals on Monday in yet another win against the best team in the league. Going into that game, Columbus had disappointing losses to the Penguins and Senators, both in overtime, sandwiched between wins against Washington. But then they kept the streaking alive with the shutout win over D.C., and then consecutive wins against the Red Wings and Kings. They have the last-place Devils in town Saturday.
So here’s been my thoughts:
- The budding youth of a line like Alexandre Texier - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Eric Robinson is fun. That was clearly evident in the opening minutes against the Capitals on Monday and we saw some offense as Robinson got another goal and Texier the assist. Robinson has seven points (four goals, three assists) in the 15 games he’s appeared in. Dubois has consecutive game-winners following an 11-game goalless drought.
Texier has also been heating up. With 11 points on the year (six goals, five assists), he has six points (two goals, four assists) over the last seven games.
- Joonas Korpisalo has been among the better goalies in the league since Nov. 1 — his .921 SV% ranks 11th and his 2.21 GAA ranks fifth (Minimum 10 games), and his 10 victories is just one of the pace over that span — as he has looked better as the season has progressed. We’ve seen his save percentage and goals against average improve each month (Dec: .925 SV%, 2.08 GAA). Overall Korpisalo is getting on average 2.65 goals for, while allowing 2.62 goals against average.
He is 3-0-0 all-time in four career starts against the Capitals (2-0-0 this season) so I’ll guess he gets another crack at them next week back in D.C. But I think the real question that bears asking — will Elvis Merzlikins ever draw a start again?
And this isn’t to say Korpi can't improve upon his game, no one is saying he’s perfect. In more advanced statistical categories, he’s basically average in things like goals allowed percentage relative to league goals allowed percentage (101 — which is tied with guys like Braden Holtby) and he’s in the negatives in goals saved above average (-0.89). Reigning Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy is -3.15.
- Gustav Nyquist has been hot with seven points (one goal, six assists) over his last six games, including a four-game points streak (one goal, five assists). He is the team points leader with 25 and assists leader with 17.
- Alexander Wennberg is still what we thought he was. He ranks near the bottom of the Blue Jackets with 43 shots at the net. Analytically, he’s towards the top in categories like CF% (52.4), and oiSV% (91.2), and he is second on the team with 152 FOW. Since his defense appears to be his best strength when on the ice, I’ve joked that he should just be a defenseman. I’m sure there are specific traits he does not possess to really cut it as a defenseman but what the hell, right?
- Kudos to Kevin Stenlund’s first-career goal and point against the Red Wings upon his call-up Tuesday night.
Stenlund was a part of the recalled reinforcements — Marko Dano the other for a few days before going back to Cleveland today and even Gabriel Carlsson making an appearance — following injuries to Emil Bemstrom (Ribs) and Josh Anderson (Shoulder) going to IR. As we learned Tuesday, the latter will miss 4-to-6 weeks. He sustained an injury last spring in the playoffs against the Bruins and then got hurt against the Penguins the second game of the season.
Apparently the injury from last season was never fully healed going into play this year, which certainly could explain the offensive woes from Anderson. Similarly to Zach Werenski last season, in which he came off a shoulder injury, and then surgery, from that offseason prior. Speaking of Werenski, he came back early from his shoulder injury, Tuesday that is, at his hometown Red Wings.
I wondered how Werenski would play coming back from the injury sooner than expected as he started picking it up offensively prior to the injury. The Jackets will take all of his goals in lieu of the injuries (Cam Atkinson leaving last night and David Savard missed the game with an illness). Werenski was the first star of last night’s win over the Kings with one goal and one assist.
With Atkinson leaving tonight’s game, the #CBJ have lost five players to injury in the last four games (Murray, Milano, Anderson, Peeke, Atkinson)— Alison (@AlisonL) December 20, 2019
- There was an interesting tweet by Micah Black McCurdy of Ineffective Math on Wednesday with an awesome evolving graphic of the Blue Jackets defense from the start of the season.
Blue Jackets 5v5 defence has been decent or better all year but the recent run has been quite something. pic.twitter.com/9UfOWvHCta— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) December 18, 2019
It shows just how effective the blue line has been for Columbus, undoubtedly helping to prop up the goaltenders. And that’s keeping in mind the absences of Markus Nutivaara and Werenski! And Andrew Peeke. And Ryan Murray. And Savard.
- Mark Scheig had a tweet showing how effective Oliver Bjorkstrand has been in the xGF% department. Following Thursday’s game, Bjorkstrand is just under 60% now (59.96) but still tops among forwards in that area. Bjorkstrand has also been hot with five points over his last three games (three goals, two assists). Last season, Bjorkstrand set a career high with 23 goals. With 10 into the latter stages of December, maybe he surpasses that total this season.
So this is neat. Per Nat Stat Trick, of all skaters who have at least 400 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time this season, only three have an xGF% north of 60%. Two of them are D (Roman Josi, MacKenzie Weegar.) The third is Bjorkstrand. Leads all forwards. #CBJ— Mark Scheig (@markscheig) December 19, 2019
Remember, it was his hot end last season that got him to 23 goals. He had three at this point last season, and finished inside the top 24 (three-way tie) with 18 goals from Jan. 1, 2019 through the end of the regular season.
See, it might seem gloomy sometimes watching this team. But then you break down the exciting aspects of potential and talent and see a nice budding core. Or they streak together a nice run here or there, shut out the Capitals and make you wonder where was that? And ok is this team is capable of something? They’ve mastered being consistently inconsistent and like always with this team, it’s riding the peaks and valleys of the roller coaster.