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January 2019: Month in Review

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An uneven month from an uneven team

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

Previously: December, November, October

RESULTS

L 2-4 @ CAR
W 4-3 (OT) @ FLA
L 0-4 @ TBL
W 4-3 (OT) vs. NSH
W 2-1 (OT) @ WSH
W 7-5 vs. NYR
W 4-1 vs. NJD
L 1-4 vs. MTL
L 1-2 @ MIN
L 4-5 vs. BUF
L 3-4 @ WPG

What a roller coaster. An overtime win in Florida was sandwiched by lackluster efforts in Carolina and Tampa. That blowout in Tampa was followed by OT wins over a couple of top teams in Nashville and Washington. Then that four game win streak was followed by a four game losing streak, which they carry into February. Prior to this streak, the Blue Jackets had not lost more than two games in a row this season.

STANDINGS

Columbus finishes the month in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, and the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They trail the surprising New York Islanders by four points, and the Isles have a game in hand. Yet the Jackets are just one point behind Pittsburgh and Washington. This is going to be a tight race down the stretch. One important note: the Jackets still lead that group in ROW, with 28 (followed by NYI 27, PIT 26, WSH 24).

STATS

through January 30

January 2019 Stats

. October November December January
. October November December January
Goals For 39 (8th) 49 (6th) 41 (17th) 29 (24th)
Goals Allowed 43 (29th) 36 (6th) 39 (11th) 32 (15th)
Power Play % 13.6 (26th) 21.1 (15th) 5.1 (31st) 24.0 (7th)
Penalty Kill % 71.4 (26th) 85.0 (4th) 82.3 (12th) 100 (1st)
5v5 Shooting % 9.9 (5th) 9.0 (12th) 9.6 (9th) 7.5 (23rd)
5v5 Save % 89.0 (29th) 93.7 (5th) 90.9 (22nd) 89.3 (28th)
5v5 Corsi For % 51.34 (11th) 46.63 (27th) 51.12 (13th) 50.05 (14th)
5v5 xG% (cumulative) 51.76 (11th) 50.8 (14th) 51.04 (12th) 49.96 (16th)

How about those special teams, eh? The (deservedly) maligned power play managed to find some success, scoring seven times in January, including in three straight games to end the month. During the bye week, Hall of Famer Marty St. Louis was hired as a special teams consultant, and worked with the team for a few days after the All Star break.

THREE STARS

Third Star: Joonas Korpisalo

In six games (four starts), Korpi went 3-1-0 with a .943 save percentage and 1.68 goals against average. He started three of the four games during the four game win streak, including great performances against Nashville and Washington. With the growing uncertainty surrounding Sergei Bobrovsky, the team may have to turn to Korpi to carry the load down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Second Star: All Stars

Seth Jones earned his third straight All Star honor, and Cam Atkinson his second. Just as they had in 2017, they helped the Metropolitan Division win the 3-on-3 tournament.

First Star: Penalty Kill

While fretting about the power play, the kill had a stellar month. It was perfect prior to allowing a tying goal in the third period last night. That was the first goal given up since December 28. They had a stretch of 27 straight kills without allowing a goal.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

Depth

The first line continues to be great, as does the top defenders, Seth Jones and Ryan Murray. Beyond that? Ehhhhhhhh. Only eight skaters had five or more points in the month.

One player particularly worth singling out is Alexander Wennberg. He had just two points in January (both assists). That’s not what the team needs from a forward with a $4.9M cap hit for four more seasons after this. He was supposed to challenge Pierre-Luc Dubois for the top line center position, and instead he has been playing third line minutes. He’s still valuable on defense and the kill, but this team can only be successful long term if he steps his game up.

Sergei Bobrovsky

2-5-0 record with a 3.71 GAA and .858 SV%. $7.425M cap hit, with an expected raise this summer. Not great, Bob. But even worse than the numbers (and holy hell, are they bad), was him literally walking out on his teammates in Tampa. After getting pulled in the third period, he walked down the tunnel to the locker room, showered and dressed, and did not return to the bench. This earned him a (unofficial) suspension for the next game, and a temporary loss of the starting job.

Clarity

Bob is not happy here, and suddenly looking expendable. The other Russian, Artemi Panarin, seems to be having fun and has been having another great season on the ice. But he continues to refuse to negotiate an extension in-season, which puts pressure on Jarmo Kekalainen to decide whether to keep either or both Russians through the postseason, or trade them now to avoid losing them for nothing this summer.

There are, of course, complications. Bob has a no move clause, which means he would have to sign off on any proposed trade. Panarin would be a highly desired rental, but can a playoff team afford to trade their most dynamic playmaker? This puts Jarmo in the rare position of being both a seller AND a buyer. He can trade the Russians for future pieces (draft picks and prospects) and then flip some of those assets to acquire some top 6 forwards and/or a goalie that help the team in this year’s playoff, and who are signed through future seasons.

No matter what happens between now and the trade deadline on February 25, what this team needs is some kind of resolution. Last year, it was like a weight had been lifted once they knew what the roster would be down the stretch. I think the same thing will happen this year, whether we keep both, one, or none of the Russians.