I wanted to title this The Blue Jackets are fun again, but I’ve done that already. That’s the vibe with this team over the past month, as they ride a run with points in 14 of their last 15 games.
Overall, I think I’m finally catching on.
Every year the Blue Jackets go through a point in which they’re sputtering, seem dazed and confused. Then they go on a run. It happened two years ago, winning 10-consecutive games in March of the 2017-18 season en-route to a second-straight playoff appearance.
Then last year, they overcame on-ice inconsistencies and whatever drama that plagued the dressing room, but not before a rock-bottom loss to the Oilers late in the season prompted a team-meeting and dinner to placate the organization. That seemed to work, as the team went on a run which included seven wins over the last eight game to crash the playoff bracket.
This team never makes it easy. Except sweeping the Lightning out of the playoffs.
The way this season started, and was going until about a month ago, everything seemed like a lost cause as the team was trending downward. Seeds was ready to basically call the season by calling up the Monsters and seeing what the team had as of early November. A few days later, Ryan Real had an article that correctly put the pulse on the team, saying they were boring. I talked about how they seemed destined, at best, for mediocrity.
The lackluster offense (2.66 GF/GP, 26th in league) was a cry for help to begin with — still is — before the injury pileup started and wouldn’t stop. Then the funny thing happened. We did start seeing the Monsters — Monstars — but out of desperation due to injuries.
We saw better, more consistent play in the net as Joonas Korpisalo (17-10-4, 2.49, .913) played very well, turning in his first-career All-Star Game selection, and we started seeing the Blue Jackets turn in improbable performances. Namely two wins against the Capitals, five of six possible points in three December games against the Metropolitan leaders, and a win at the Bruins just inside the new year.
Nearly two weeks ago the Blue Jackets were — I’ll say it — screwed by the league in their game against the Blackhawks due to the clock malfunction in which Zach Werenski’s goal with literal seconds left was deemed no good. Maybe that’s been a rallying cry to an extent, on top of the injury car crash pileup the team was going through, almost on a game-by-game basis.
We’ve then seen wins against the bottom two clubs in the Western Conference — Kings and Ducks — which, regardless of where those teams are in the standings, the West Coast trip is not easy, and they’ll get their chance to avenge a loss to the Sharks from over the weekend that snapped a 12-game points-streak, on Thursday night. They’re also currently on a nine-game road points-streak.
A win against any team in professional sports is of the ‘any given Sunday mantra’ and as we’ve seen with Columbus, they can beat good teams. It was the consistency issues they struggled with and what separates contenders from pretenders. But also (and I touched upon this a little bit) when I talked about the team hoping for at least mediocrity, I was talking more about the finish the team was lacking.
Nothing was going their way, at all. The close but no cigar shots that were hitting the posts and not ending in the back of the net. Though scoring has only marginally improved since then, from 2.36 to 2.66, their goals ... seem more timely?
Eh, they’re at least ending up on the right side of the scoreboard more frequently of late.
Werenski has been a huge part of that (15 goals, 13 assists) and has been on fire since returning from a shoulder injury. I cautioned whether he was coming back too early, but he’s been on an absolutely tear since with 12 points (nine goals, three assists) since returning Dec. 17.
Over just the prior five games, he has three multi-goal games, including last night against the Ducks, and his New Years Eve hat trick against Sergei Bobrovsky and the Panthers. All since his goal was taken off the board against the Blackhawks.
Per the NHL, only three defensemen in the expansion era have three multigoal outings in a five-game span.— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) January 8, 2020
--Hall of Famer Bobby Orr (1971).
--Hall of Famer Paul Coffey (3x in 1985-86 and 2x in 1984-85)
--Pretty likable guy Zach Werenski#CBJ
His 15 goals leads the Blue Jackets, and as well, all NHL defensemen. Right now, Werenski is on pace to shatter his personal best, and the franchise single-season mark for goals by a defenseman (16), set by he and Seth Jones in 2017-18. Werenski’s career-high of 47 points set in his rookie campaign of 2016-17 also looks to be surpassed with ease. Jones currently holds the franchise mark for points by a defenseman in a single season with 57 set in 2017-18.
Right before the latest Blue Jackets run took on the life it did, I was about to lambast the team, saying I didn’t care about playoffs but I just wanted to see the teams’ core and prospects begin to show their potential for next season and the future.
And now, a month or so later, we’ve seen Korpisalo develop into an All-Star goaltender. Elvis Merzlikins (4-5-4, 2.97, .910), whose bench mainstay caught the ire of some when Korpisalo was active, has looked good as his counterpart recovers from his torn meniscus sidelining him 4-6 weeks.
If you thought the veterans of the team, like Josh Anderson and Cam Atkinson had to spearhead the group, it’s actually been the young kids who have been able to help lead the charge. Such as an unsung hero in the form of 5-foot-5 Nathan Gerbe (three goals, two assists in eight games), who’s been among the catalysts for the teams’ surge.
An All-Star for the Monsters, I’m not sure Gerbe will get to play in that game. And I don’t think he’d mind, as Gerbe has help transformed the Blue Jackets into this seemingly never say die mentality. Sure, you still expect Atkinson, and possibly Anderson — though we’ve seen how the effects of shoulder injuries can impact players, such as Werenski a few seasons ago — to come back and help carry the bulk of the load. But while those guys fight off first-half struggles and injury, we’ve gotten a greater glimpse of the organizational depth, which is nice to see.
What’s truly awesome by the impact of the Monsters call-ups is it’s going to make John Tortorella’s job harder as to who to who should see ice time.
This tweet from around the draft last summer came to mind over the last week and I feel it’s appropriate to bring up as we have seen a number of the names below make an impact this season.
#CBJ have like two draft picks in this draft but then you have Liam Foudy, Vladislav Gavrikov, Alexandre Texier, Elvis Merlizikins, Emil Bemström, Veini Vehviläinen, Eric Robinson, Daniil Tarasov, Trey Fix-Wolansky etc etc who are primed to begin taking over starting this year.— William Chase (@WillChase_) June 22, 2019
Over the past few games, the walking wounded have begun to come back, first with Sonny Milano scoring a goal against the Bruins. Then Emil Bemstrom and Markus Nutivaara took part in the game against the Kings Monday night, and it sounds like Cam Atkinson is also close to coming back.
As of this writing, the Blue Jackets have 50 points, and are tied with the Flyers — they have a game in hand — for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Stop and think about that, and think about where everything was just a month ago. In reality, the Blue Jackets are fun again but really, winning just cures all. Now it just needs to continue.