The Blue Jackets are good, not lucky or doomed.
An open rebuttal.
I saw something yesterday, and it kind of struck a nerve.
We’re now through with a third of the 2016-17 NHL season. The Columbus Blue Jackets are still one of the better teams in the league. This is still confounding. It still makes my brain hurt.
This quote, from this article on the SB Nation NHL mainpage, kind of irritated me probably more than it should have. The article, as I’m sure some of you saw, goes on to discuss whether the Blue Jackets are good, lucky, or playing at an unsustainable rate and doomed to fall back into the “same old Jackets” history.
The article seems to lean toward “doomed,” citing a number of statistics that cannot possible be kept up. Or something. I’m basically here to nitpick them to death because, let’s face it, I’ve boughti into this team success, they’re never going to lose another game, and Bobrovsky is going to win the Vezina again this year.
POINT ONE: THE POWER PLAY IS POTENTIALLY UNSUSTAINABLE
Sure, I guess. That’s possible. It’s entirely likely, in fact, that the power play doesn’t hover around 25% for much of the year. The last team to do that featured some guy named Alex Ovechkin. But, what I believe most people are overlooking when it comes to the power play, is a two fold addition of Zach Werenski and Sam Gagner. Werenski, the 19 year old stud rookie, is already one of the two or three best puck moving defensemen this club has ever iced (the only other that comes to immediate mind is James Wisniewski), and he has the potential to get even better. He has allowed the team to set up in the 4 forwards and 1 defenseman setup that Torts favors, and has shown an ability to make expert passes and be a threat to score from the blue line. The other addition, Sam Gagner, has fit perfectly into the slot on the power play. He is not only a danger to score, but is an expert and picking out passes. Watch his assist on Cam Atkinson’s power play goal against Edmonton again. Those are dimensions we haven’t had before.
Those additions have allowed us to have the most structure we’ve ever shown as a club on the power play. Look at this organization!
POINT TWO: SERGEI BOBROVSKY WILL REGRESS
Bob has, to put it mildly, been playing out of his mind this year. He showed up to camp slimmer, more flexible, and absolutely ready to put the past few injury seasons behind him. All he’s done this year is run out to an NHL leading 17 wins, a .934 SV%, and a 1.94 GAA. Is this unsustainable? Maybe not. Remember the Vezina year? Bob went 21-11-6, with a 2.00 GAA and a .932 SV%. We have seen him do this for extended periods of time before. If he can stay healthy (and, according to Coach Tortorella, he feels great and isn’t tired at all), there’s absolutely no reason to think that he can’t keep this up, especially considering he has the best defensive group he’s ever had in front of him.
POINT THREE: THE PDO IS TOO DARN HIGH
The Columbus Blue Jackets currently boast a PDO of 1.036, according to the article cited above. Apparently, because it is so high, the Blue Jackets are due to regress in the near future. But let’s take a look at that chart again.
See some of the other teams around Columbus? Like, oh, Montreal, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New York? They must be good, but we can’t be? What gives? This isn’t the “same old Blue Jackets” team that just automatically sucks. Either all of these teams are playing at an unsustainable pace, or Columbus maybe, just maybe, has what it takes to keep this up.
POINT FOUR: THEY’RE VULNERABLE WHEN THEY DON’T HAVE A LEAD
Is this true? Possibly. But, as I cited the other day, good luck jumping out on them. Columbus is outscoring teams 27-13 in the first period, and are 10-2-1 when leading after the first period. In the third period, they’re outscoring teams at nearly the same clip, by a mark of 32-17. The Blue Jackets start strong, and finish just as strong. Unlike in years past, nothing phases them, and this team doesn’t quit. The Blue Jackets score in bunches, and frustrate the hell out of opposing teams in the neutral zone. Edmonton was mentally out of their game on Tuesday night, even Jack Johnson noticed it in the most recent CBJ 30 in 30.
I’m interrupting myself. I’ve made my points, but I want to touch on something here. I am sick and tired of people shredding this team because of their history. This is a new group, with new additions, with a new coach and new style. These aren’t the same old Jackets. I don’t expect the league to look at us as a threat. We haven’t earned that. What I do want is to see articles that aren’t damning with faint praise. Through 27 games, this team is the feel good story of the NHL. Who couldn’t be happy for these guys? And yet, every damn article is about how this won’t last, how Columbus will go back to being a bottom feeder, generally citing team history. Sure, we sucked for a long time. Thanks for that Dougie Mac, I still hate your guts. But that has no bearing on THIS TEAM. On these guys here. There are fun things to pay attention do- a Calder candidate, a revival and a Vezina caliber netminder, a captain who’s found his game after a down year. Torts has clearly learned when to push the right buttons and not work teams to death - hell, he’s cancelled morning skates more than he’s had them! The team had to ASK to have one in Edmonton so they could get used to the new ice!
A little respect would be nice. A little recognition for the culture change that’s gone on here would be appreciated. And damn, 27 games in to this season? This team has EARNED that.
Maybe it’ll come when they kick Pittsburgh’s ass on Thursday.