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January 2021 Month in Review

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A weird start to a weird season

NHL: JAN 28 Panthers at Blue Jackets Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

RESULTS

L 1-3 @ NSH
L 2-5 @ NSH
W 3-2 @ DET
L 2-3 (OT) @ DET
L 2-3 (OT) vs. TBL
W 5-2 vs. TBL
L 3-4 (SO) vs. FLA
W 3-2 (SO) vs. FLA
W 2-1 @ CHI
L 1-3 @CHI

It was a rough start in the opening series, with two third period collapses. After that, however, the Blue Jackets put together a seven game point streak. This season’s schedule features two-game series between opponents, and it felt like the Jackets improved in the second leg of each series.

There seemed to be a cloud hanging over the team with the lingering trade request of Pierre-Luc Dubois. After he was traded, the team responded with a dominant win against the Lightning. It has been uneven since then, however, as the team integrated new arrivals Mikko Koivu and Jack Roslovic into the lineup.

STANDINGS

The battle for positioning in the standings is different this year with every game taking place between divisional opponents. The good news is it’s easier to remain in contention, since every game is against a team above or near you in the standings. The bad news — at least for the way the Blue Jackets play — is that regulation wins are more important than ever. Earning Bettman points helps the Jackets keep pace, but if they keep giving extra points to their opponents they can’t make up as much ground, or create separation.

The other weird wrinkle this year is due to COVID outbreaks among the Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes which have forced games to be rescheduled. This means the Jackets have played significantly more games than half of the division. So, as of this writing the Jackets tied with Florida for the most points (11), By points percentage, however, they’re only fifth out of eight teams. Note that somehow the NHL still has not announced how they will determine playoff seeding in the event that not every team plays the necessary 56 points.

I’m glad the Jackets are banking points now, especially when they haven’t played their best hockey. Things will get more difficult for the other Central teams as they get fewer off days down the stretch due to make-up games.

JANUARY STATS

Does not include Sunday’s game

5v5 Corsi For %: 46.24 (29th)
5v5 Fenwick For %: 46.41 (27th)
5v5 Save %: 93.33 (9th)
5v5 Shooting %: 7.98 (16th)
5v5 xG%: 45.21 (27th)
Goals For/60: 2.44 (26th)
Goals Allowed/60: 2.67 (13th)
Power Play %: 12.5 (23rd)
Penalty Kill %: 85.0 (6th)

All that talk in the offseason about creating more offense has not yet come to fruition. The team defense hasn’t been sharp, either, but fortunately the goaltending has stepped up. The power play has the same issues that have existed for four years. Hopefully adding an elite goal scorer in Patrik Laine provides an offensive spark at both 5v5 and with the man advantage.

THREE STARS

Honorable Mention

Jarmo Kekalainen made the most of a difficult situation by trading Dubois and a third round pick for Laine and Roslovic. Young, two-way centers don’t grow on trees so that’s a steep price to pay, but he got a highly skilled player in Laine to fill a team need, and insisting on Roslovic as part of the deal could push this in the Jackets’ favor if he develops a higher ceiling than he had in Winnipeg. Also to Jarmo’s credit, some of his young draft picks like Alexandre Texier and Liam Foudy have carried the team so far, with positive showings from off-season signees like Michael Del Zotto and Mikhail Grigorenko.

Third Star: Joonas Korpisalo

Korpi picked up where he left off in the postseason with a 2.17 goals against average and .936 save percentage in five starts. That save percentage ranks second in the league among goalies with at least four starts. He’s facing a heavy workload, too, with 34 shots faced per game.

Elvis Merzlikins has not been as good, but has shown improvement and increased confidence from game to game. The goalie tandem has been very successful so far, with each being comfortable alternating starts. With the packed schedule they’re getting frequent enough work to stay sharp but are able to stay fresh, too.

Second Star: BJORKSTRAND

The Maestro sent a message during training camp by signing a long term extension, and has followed through by a much-needed hot start. He leads the team in points (eight) and assists (five) and also has three goals.

First Star: Alexandre Texier

Even before trading Dubois, the Jackets started playing Texier at center to see how he would handle that position. They had drafted him with the idea he would be a center eventually, but we didn’t expect him to move over this soon. Luckily he’s been great in that role, and that must have made it somewhat easier to part with Dubois. No matter who has played on his wing, his line has been consistently noticeable from night to night. He has shown a nose for the net, with a team-leading four goals.

That goal tally doesn’t include his most impressive score, a shootout winner against Florida:

3.6 ROENTGEN: Not great, not terrible

Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner

These two have been whipping boys for a few years now, due to their production not matching their contracts. While their underlying stats this season still aren’t great, they at least have been putting points on the board. Jenner has three goals and three assists, while Foligno has three goals of his own and one assist. Any production from these guys is gravy, and provides much-needed scoring depth. Boone in particular seems re-energized by moving back to wing. May he never have to play center again.

Michael Del Zotto

I didn’t understand bringing in MDZ to play defense, but he has been arguably the best defenseman on the team this month. He leads the blue line in points (four assists) and has held his own defensively, albeit in sheltered deployment.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

John Tortorella

I don’t believe that Torts was the reason that Dubois wanted to be traded from Columbus. PLD has said nothing but good things about their relationship and Torts’ impact on his game. That being said, it does seem that Torts’ behavior after the trade request went public may have accelerated PLD’s departure. Benching Dubois for a lazy shift was completely justified, but a more delicate touch could have kept Dubois engaged and defused the tension in the locker room, much like they were able to survive the situation with Panarin and Bobrovsky in 2018-19.

Torts deserves so much credit for the success the Blue Jackets have had since he has been behind the bench. As a result, he deserves the chance to leave on his own terms. But that needs to be a retirement this summer at the conclusion of his current contract. It’s time for some new voices in the room, who can build on this strong foundation left by Tortorella and take the team to another level.

Cam Atkinson

I mentioned Jenner and Foligno as popular whipping boys of Jackets fans; the third is Cam Atkinson. Unlike the other two, he has not found redemption this season. I was hopefully that last year was a injury-influenced blip and he could regain at least career-average form. His struggles continue, unfortunately. He has lost a step from his speed and his shooting touch is missing. He’s shooting just 4.8% this season after 8.1% last year, which are well below his career average of 11.4%. His shot rate has gone down as well, with a career-low 2.33 shots per game, down from 3.36 last season.

There is still time for him to find his form. After all, he has gone through hot and cold streaks before. But I’m starting to think we need to recalibrate our expectations for him (and accept that they’re well below what his cap hit deserves).

Seth Jones and Zach Werenski

The top defensive pair has not been playing like it. They have enough of a track record that I think they’ll find their game eventually, but there’s a limit to how far this team can go if the best players aren’t delivering.

Poll

Who is the MVP for January?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Texier
    (41 votes)
  • 31%
    BJORKSTRAND
    (30 votes)
  • 24%
    Korpisalo
    (23 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (1 vote)
95 votes total Vote Now