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March 2019: Month in Review

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In like a lamb, out like a lion

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Previously: February, January, December, November, October

RESULTS

L 0-4 vs. EDM
L 2-5 vs. WPG
W 2-1 (SO) @ NJD
L 0-3 @ PIT
W 4-1 vs. PIT
L 0-2 @ NYI
W 7-4 vs. BOS
W 3-0 vs. CAR
L 1-2 (OT) @ BOS
L 2-4 @ CGY
L 1-4 @ EDM
W 5-0 @ VAN
W 4-0 vs. NYI
W 6-2 vs. MTL
W 5-2 @ NSH
W 4-0 @ BUF

Despite the arrivals of Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Keith Kinkaid (who only backed up and has not played yet), the Columbus Blue Jackets did not hit the ground running to start March. The month opened with two lackluster performances in a home back-to-back against Edmonton and Winnipeg. Strong wins against Pittsburgh, Boston, and Carolina were mere blips in a 4-6-1 stretch of disappointing play. It was a very frustrating three weeks for Columbus fans. Would the deadline moves be for naught? Could this “all-in” team miss the playoffs entirely? Fortunately spirits have been lifted again by a five game win streak, including three shutouts. This is starting to have the feel of that ten game win streak they had last March.

STANDINGS

February ended with the Jackets in third place in the Metro. That was short-lived, as the skid dropped them out of a playoff position entirely. Fortunately the huge win over Montreal on Thursday put them back in control of their playoff destiny, and last night’s win (combined with a Carolina loss to Pittsburgh) elevated the Jackets into the first wild card position, one point ahead of the Hurricanes. They are three points behind Pittsburgh with three games to play, so getting better than a wild card spot seems unlikely. Do you want to play Washington again, or the Tampa Bay buzzsaw? After this roller coaster month I’m just happy if we can get to the playoffs at all.

STATS

March 2019 Stats

. October November December January February March
. October November December January February March
Goals For 39 (8th) 49 (6th) 41 (17th) 29 (24th) 40 (15th) 45 (15th)
Goals Allowed 43 (29th) 36 (6th) 39 (11th) 32 (15th) 33 (6th) 34 (5th)
Power Play % 13.6 (26th) 21.1 (15th) 5.1 (31st) 24.0 (7th) 16.1 (21st) 11.4 (28th)
Penalty Kill % 71.4 (26th) 85.0 (4th) 82.3 (12th) 100 (1st) 86.7 (6th) 91.2 (2nd)
5v5 Shooting % 9.9 (5th) 9.0 (12th) 9.6 (9th) 7.5 (23rd) 8.5 (14th) 7.8 (17th)
5v5 Save % 89.0 (29th) 93.7 (5th) 90.9 (22nd) 89.3 (28th) 91.8 (16th) 93.6 (6th)
5v5 Corsi For % 51.34 (11th) 46.63 (27th) 51.12 (13th) 50.05 (14th) 51.41 (9th) 49.74 (15th)
5v5 xG% (cumulative) 51.76 (11th) 50.8 (14th) 51.04 (12th) 49.96 (16th) 50.2 (15th) 50.5 (14th)

Most of the stats look pretty similar to February, and reflect a largely average team. The penalty kill remains excellent, and the big difference on the month is finally getting elite goaltending and defense. The save percentage has not been that high since November.

THREE STARS

Honorable Mention: Cam Atkinson scored twice against Nashville on Saturday night to tie Rick Nash’s franchise record for most goals in a season: 41.

Third Star: Josh Anderson

As most individual performances matched the team’s roller-coaster trends (or “up and down like a toilet seat” if you’d prefer a less delicate analogy), one consistently great performer has been Josh Anderson. He delivers energy every shift with his combination of size and speed and his nose for taking the puck to the net. He was second on team in March with 10 points, and tied for fourth in goals, with four (tied with David Savard, WTF). Will Chase wrote more about “BJA” here.

Second Star: BJORKSTRAND

Yes, Oliver Bjorkstrand was the second star last month, and it’s true that I try to avoid repeats if possible. TOO BAD. The Maestro has continued his red hot streak in March. Initially he had success with the Ottawa pair of Duchene and Dzingel, and now has clicked with Boone Jenner and Alex Wennberg. He has scored in all five games of the win streak, and six of seven, with seven goals in that span. He only scored three goals in the first 30 games, on 5.6% shooting. He has 18 goals in the 44 games since. He has now set new career highs with 21 goals and 13.6% shooting. He won’t match the 29 assists he had last year (currently at 11) and is eight points shy of the 40 he had last year, but I think we’re all very happy to see him finally hit his stride as a goal scorer for an extended stretch.

First Star: Sergei “Sergio” Bobrovsky

Despite some bumps in the road in the first half of the season, Bob has been nothing short of outstanding in March, especially in the last week. He has tied his career high with 9 shutouts (currently tied for the league lead this season). Seven of those shutouts have come in the last two month, with two occurrences of shutouts in consecutive games. Honorable mention to the overall defensive play of the team, as some of those games have featured very few high danger chances against Bob. In the past this team waited for Bob to bail them out. Now it’s finally an equal collaboration.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

This section is more difficult to write in the midst of a win streak featuring all-around excellent play from the team. Most of the problems in the month appear to have been addressed in these recent games. Still, a few are worth mentioning:

Inconsistency

It’s been the story all season, really. This team is consistently inconsistent. They’re capable of playing a great game against a good team one night, then two days later completely no-show against a bad team. I know that it’s difficult to maintain the same energy level and focus over an 82 game season, but some nights it was like they completely forgot how to play the game of hockey.

First Line Woes

One risk of making a big deadline move is having to integrate new players into the team with not much time remaining in the season. And sure, Duchene and Dzingel have not always delivered on their potential here. But the bigger issue was the silence from the top line of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Cam Atkinson. It seems odd to criticize them seeing as Atkinson matched the goal record and Panarin beat his own franchise records for assists and points, and considering Cam is second on the team in March goals, and Bread led the way with 10 assists. But when the team lost, those names were conspicuously absent from the scoresheet. Cam had just one assist and no goals in a seven game stretch from the Islanders game through the Canucks game. Bread had a 12 game goalless streak to start the month, and seven of those games were without an assist. In seven of those games he wasn’t even shooting, recording one or zero shots on goal.

Dubois, meanwhile, remains MIA. He went without a point in all but two games of the season (1G, 1A vs. Vancouer, 1G, 2A vs. Buffalo). That goal against the Canucks ended a 13 game goal drought. He has lost his spot on the top line to Duchene, and has played between Dzingel and Anderson. Hopefully this performance against Buffalo is a sign he’s snapping out of his slump. Like the 9 and 13, his overall season stats are still great. He has eclipsed his impressive rookie line of 20/28/48 with a sophomore line of 25/34/59.

Up Next

Three games left to decide the team’s playoff fate. Let’s hope I get to write an April Month in Review that includes a playoff series or two.