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February 2020 Month in Review

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All good things must come to an end

Minnesota Wild v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

Previously: October, November, December, January

RESULTS

L 1-2 (OT) @ BUF
W 4-3 @ MTL
W 1-0 (OT) vs. FLA
W 2-0 vs. DET
L 1-2 vs. COL
L 1-2 (OT) vs. TBL
L 3-4 (OT) @ BUF
L 1-3 vs. NYR
L 3-4 (SO) @ NJD
L 1-5 @ PHI
L 3-4 (OT) vs. PHI
L 3-4 (SO) @ NSH
W 4-3 (OT) vs. OTT
L 4-5 @ MIN
L 0-5 vs. MIN

The two months of the Columbus Blue Jackets collecting wins and points came to a hard end, with an eight game losing streak in the middle of the month. Five overtime losses eased the sting a little bit, but the month ended with a regulation sweep by Minnesota - the first back-to-back regulation losses since early December.

STANDINGS

As summarized in the latest View from the Parapet, we are fortunate that few Metro teams took advantage of the Jackets’ cold spell. That 4-5-6 stretch only dropped the Jackets one spot in the standings. They remain two points ahead of the Hurricanes and red-hot Rangers, but each of those teams has multiple games in hand. The same goes for the Islanders, who are two points ahead in the first wild card. The Flyers have vaulted to second in the Metro as of this writing, thanks in part to their season sweep of the Jackets.

STATS

February 2020 Stats

. October November December January February
. October November December January February
Goals For/60 2.55 (26th) 2.47 (25th) 2.79 (23rd) 3.00 (14th) 2.13 (30th)
Goals Allowed/60 3.54 (27th) 2.55 (10th) 2.21 (2nd) 1.64 (1st) 2.93 (18th)
Power Play % 13.2 (25th) 26.7 (5th) 11.4 (30th) 20.0 (17th) 8.8 (30th)
Penalty Kill % 75.7 (24th) 86.8 (4th) 80.9 (10th) 85.7 (4th) 78.3 (20th)
5v5 Shooting % 7.14 (24th) 5.95 (27th) 7.20 (22nd) 9.8 (8th) 5.4 (30th)
5v5 Save % 91.61 (18th) 92.05 (17th) 93.71 (5th) 95.6 (1st) 91.3 (23rd)
5v5 Corsi For % 49.49 (17th) 50.16 (14th) 50.85 (11th) 42.5 (31st) 51.0 (13th)
5v5 Fenwick For % 50.70 (13th) 54.52 (7th) 53.90 (7th) 43.3 (31st) 52.2 (9th)
5v5 xG% 51.54 (9th) 55.36 (2nd) 54.50 (5th) 41.72 (30th) 51.75 (9th)

Fun fact: it turns out that when you can’t score - even on the power play - and can’t stop the other team from scoring - especially on the penalty kill - that it becomes quite difficult to win in regulation.

Yes, obviously, the injuries to multiple critical players were a factor here. Furthermore, the xG% suggests that there was a bit of bad luck in the goal numbers. That being said, that same figure shows that we had our share of lucky bounces in January.

In seven of the 15 games, the Blue Jackets scored one or fewer goals. In ten of the 15 they allowed three or more, and that includes the last nine - or all but one of the games played without Seth Jones.

THREE STARS

Honorable Mention

The staff insisted I include Elvis Merzlikins here. His stats are fairly pedestrian compared to his previous month: 3-3-4, .911 save percentage, and 2.40 goals against average. Still, the month included two of his five shutouts and even in the games where he gave up more goals, he made key saves down the stretch to keep his team in it. With the defensive breakdowns and bad bounces, things could have been much worse with any other goalie.

Third Star: Nick Foligno

Since being named captain in 2015, Foligno’s play has often risen or fallen with the team’s fortunes. In his first season in that role, the Jackets infamously began 0-8-0 and it appeared that Foligno placed blame on himself. As a result, his individual numbers fell from his previous season’s career highs. The next season he relaxed, settled into a top line role, and both he and the team had renewed success. The pattern continued through every streak and slump of the last four and a half seasons - until now. As the team took off, he suffered one of the longer droughts of his career, at 23 games through December and early January. He scored in consecutive games there and then had a 12 game drought into late February. Since then, however, he has four goals in the last five games, just as his team needs someone to fell the void left by last year’s top scorers being hurt. He’s doing all of this while playing all three situations and often playing over 20 minutes a game.

Second Star: Seth Jones

Someone who didn’t follow the team may be confused why I’m giving the second star to someone who only scored one goal and one assist in the month and who only played five games. This award is a recognition of how good Jones is that his absence has been so glaringly obvious. As I said above, the team have allowed goals at a much higher rate since Jones left. There are so many defensive breakdowns - by both the defenders as well as the forwards. Are they playing worse or did Jones just cover them that well when he was healthy? As reported in The Athletic this week, Jones elected to have surgery on his injured ankle so he could recover in time to play in the postseason. Sadly, it appears this team may not be able to make that final push without him.

First Star: BJORKSTRAND

Again, I have to give the award to someone who will miss the remainder of the season. Despite missing the last four games, Oliver Bjorkstrand leads the team in goals (5) and points (9) for February. Fortunately the team has still found ways to score (at least until last night) but until Cam Atkinson returns there is no one else with the game-breaking scoring ability that BJORKSTRAND displayed this season.

3.6 ROENTGEN: Not great, not terrible

Zach Werenski

I see many CBJ fans online dumping on Werenski. They think he’s overrated. They think he’s lazy. They’re wrong. Werenski is still one of the best young defensemen in the league. He’s a dynamic offensive weapon who currently leads his position in goals scored. Of his four goals this month, two were game winners. BUT he has had some struggles since losing his partner, Jones. They’re both great but they are at their best together. Like chocolate and peanut butter. Without Jones, Werenski has been caught out of position several times, leading to goals the other way. We’re lucky to have another young talent like this on the roster, but he has some things to work on to get even better.

*Trade Deadline*

The deadline was fine, I guess, because I didn't expect much in the first place. The Jackets weren't in a position to trade any more picks and prospects on rentals, and also couldn't afford to move any NHLers from the already depleted roster. The moves were minor: _Slán_, Sonny Milano and Markus Hannikainen. _Fáilte_, Devin Shore and a conditional seventh round pick. Shore is a better fit than Milano but seems to have a low ceiling. I would have rather had a draft pick there.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

Injuries

I said this last month, like an idiot.

The team is slowly getting healthier, with Atkinson, BJORKSTRAND, Emil Bemstrom, and Markus Nutivaara returning to the lineup. Josh Anderson and Joonas Korpisalo could return in a couple of weeks.

What happened? Well, Atkinson, BJORKSTRAND and Korpisalo did all return, but the forwards got reinjured and Korpisalo struggled in his first start last night. Atkinson should be back but BJORKSTRAND is done for the season. Also done for the season is Josh Anderson, whose shoulder injury did not heal on its own over the last two months. He will have surgery now and it is no clearer what will happen this summer with his next contract.

The injury situation in Columbus has now entered the realm of the comically tragic. It is not just the numbers of players hurt, with each of the three positions getting hit. It is that we have lost key players all throughout the lineup. Of the top ten returning point earners from last season, only Dubois (2nd), Jenner (6th), and Foligno (8th) have avoided injuries (for now - knock on wood). At one point this last week, 11 lineup regulars were on the injury report. Now, you’re missing a 40 goal scorer (Atkinson), two 20 goal scorers (Anderson and BJORKSTRAND, who had 21 this time), a promising young forward (Texier), three of the top six defensemen (Jones, Murray, Kukan), and one red-hot goalie (Merzlikins, on the shelf right after Korpisalo returned).

Given all of that adversity, it’s amazing this team is still in a playoff position. Many preseason projections had this team - fully healthy! - finishing with less than 90 points. They may well pass that with only half a lineup. What could they have accomplished if they stayed healthy? Or did it take some injuries and call-ups to shock this team into playing the game the right way in December and January?

Poll

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