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February 2019: Month in Review

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Welcome to some new faces

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Previously: January, December, November, October

RESULTS

L 2-4 vs. STL
W 6-3 @ COL
W 4-2 @ ARI
W 4-3 @ VGK
W 3-0 vs. WSH
L 0-3 vs. NYI
W 5-2 @ CHI
L 1-5 vs. TBL
L 2-3 @ MTL
W 3-0 @ OTT
W 4-0 vs. SJS
L 2-5 vs. PIT
W 4-3 (OT) vs. PHI

Another roller coaster month, as it started with the back end of a season-high five game losing streak. This was followed by a four game win streak that featured wins in consecutive games against last season’s finalists. A back-to-back sweep at the hands of Tampa and Montreal had everyone feeling low, until the team received some major reinforcements. First came Matt Duchene, who played in back-to-back shutout wins over Ottawa and San Jose. Immediately after the San Jose win, it was announced that Duchene’s Ottawa linemate Ryan Dzingel had been acquired as well. The trade deadline euphoria was doused by another loss to Pittsburgh before ending the month with an overtime win to sweep the season series against Philadelphia.

STANDINGS

From the end of January to this morning, the Columbus Blue Jackets rose from the second wild card to third place in the Metro. But it remains a neck-and-neck-and-neck race with Pittsburgh and Carolina, with the Jackets just one point ahead. The three teams have been playing leapfrog for the last week. With Montreal in the mix, it’s all but guaranteed that one of those four teams will miss the postseason.

STATS

February 2019 Stats

. October November December January February
. October November December January February
Goals For 39 (8th) 49 (6th) 41 (17th) 29 (24th) 40 (15th)
Goals Allowed 43 (29th) 36 (6th) 39 (11th) 32 (15th) 33 (6th)
Power Play % 13.6 (26th) 21.1 (15th) 5.1 (31st) 24.0 (7th) 16.1 (21st)
Penalty Kill % 71.4 (26th) 85.0 (4th) 82.3 (12th) 100 (1st) 86.7 (6th)
5v5 Shooting % 9.9 (5th) 9.0 (12th) 9.6 (9th) 7.5 (23rd) 8.5 (14th)
5v5 Save % 89.0 (29th) 93.7 (5th) 90.9 (22nd) 89.3 (28th) 91.8 (16th)
5v5 Corsi For % 51.34 (11th) 46.63 (27th) 51.12 (13th) 50.05 (14th) 51.41 (9th)
5v5 xG% (cumulative) 51.76 (11th) 50.8 (14th) 51.04 (12th) 49.96 (16th) 50.2 (15th)

Nothing that really stands out this month. The stats seem to suggest that they’ve been what they are all season: a good, not great team. We’ll see if the new additions help, but it may be another week before things really click.

THREE STARS

Honorable Mention: The Rookies

I don’t usually do this, but I wanted to honor the contributions of two young players. Kole Sherwood played twice, becoming the first Columbus native to play for the Jackets. That’s a great achievement for Central Ohio hockey. Eric Robinson had debuted in the final game of last season after signing with the team as a free agent out of Princeton. He did not record a point in the seven games he played this month, but his impact has been felt. He’s a large, physical player with some good speed as well.

Third Star: Sergei Bobrovsky

Bob has returned to Bob form since the All Star Break. He went 8-3-0 in 11 starts with a .928 save percentage and 2.01 GAA through the first 10 starts. He had three shutouts in the month, including two in less than 24 hours against Ottawa and San Jose.

Second Star: BJORKSTRAND

It’s been a rough seasons at times for the Great Dane, Oliver Bjorkstrand. But things have finally clicked for him in February. He has a line 5/4/9 for the month. Those five goals are tied with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin for third on the team (behind Cam Atkinson’s 7 and Josh Anderson’s 6). BJORKSTRAND has cemented his place as a top 6 winger. Initially the turnaround came with Anthony Duclair and Alexander Wennberg. Once Duclair was traded and Wennberg was scratched, BJORKSTRAND has found a new home with Duchene and Dzingel.

Also worth noting: for as bad as we thought his season has been, among Jackets skaters with more than 15 games played, he is second to only Panarin in CF%, at 52.61.

First Star: Jarmo Kekalainen

The biggest win of the month for this team came off the ice. Since the summer, a cloud has hung over the team with the looming departure of free agents Panarin and Bobrovsky. There was much speculation that it was imperative for Jarmo to trade one or both Russians to recoup some future assets. On the other hand, Jarmo kept insisting that there was value in holding on to those talented players and making a playoff push. As this team remained streaky and in and out of playoff position, it seemed like another first round exit was the ceiling for this roster. So Jarmo shocked the world by going “all-in” and acquiring Duchene and Dzingel, two of the two forwards available on the trade market. These moves created scarcity on the market for Panarin, but no team was able to meet Jarmo’s price (he was requiring an NHL player as well as future assets).

The GM has taken a major risk here. He gave up two prospects, an NHL player, and four high draft picks (one of them conditional) for two players who could walk this summer. That’s four of the most talented players on the team who could be gone by next season in addition to those future assets.

The risk may be worth it. With these new additions, the ceiling for this team is much higher. A deep playoff run will energize the fanbase and the city, and provide valuable experience for the talented young core that is under team control for years to come. Perhaps such a run will convince those free agents to stay. There is plenty of cap space to sign them (at least two of the four). The Russians are still more likely to leave, but in Duchene and Dzingel, the Jackets acquired players more likely to re-sign. Dzingel is familiar with Columbus after playing for Ohio State. Duchene is friends with Dzingel and has a young family - like many current Jackets such as Atkinson.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

John Tortorella

I have to put Torts on blast for his lineup decisions with the new acquisitions. Alexander Wennberg has been a healthy scratch for four straight games since the Duchene trade. Wennberg has certainly had his struggles this season, but does he deserve such an extended break? Is he really a worse option than Riley Nash or Brandon Dubinsky? Adding Duchene gives this team great center depth, but removing Wennberg from the lineup removes a young center with skill. Wennberg would be overqualified for a third line role in this lineup. And yet, Torts and Jarmo both insist on leaving Boone Jenner at center, with Nick Foligno and Josh Anderson on the wings. That line has been productive, sure, but what if a better FOUR lines can be built by breaking that line up?

It’s a valid question to ask whether Torts is the right coach for a lineup with this talent. Of course this franchise is not going to change coaches this late in the season. And who knows, perhaps if all of the free agents leave Torts may end up being the right coach for next season’s underdog squad.

Nick Foligno

Speaking of the captain, he had just two goals and no assists this month yet averaged 17:53 a game - that’s more than Duchene or Dubois did.

Foligno looks out of place on the new look first power play unit, which includes Zach Werenski, Panarin, Atkinson, and Duchene. He simply cannot play the game at the same pace as those players. Someone like Dubois or Anderson would be a better fit in the net-front role.

Foligno still has a valuable skillset, but it needs to be in a bottom 6 role. There is too much elite talent among the forwards for him to continue to have such a large on-ice role.