A franchise best 108 points, a record-setting winning streak, and a near upset over the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. It was the most successful season in the history of the Columbus Blue Jackets. This year, they’re out to prove that last year was no stroke of luck.
During the offseason they upgraded up front, acquiring Artemi Panarin in a deal that saw them send Brandon Saad back to Chicago. With Panarin added and essentially no roster turnover they looked primed to repeat their success, but still, it’s the Columbus Blue Jackets and the hockey world has been and always will be a little skeptical of the young franchise. Could they really compete in a strong Metro Division again? Or was last year just a fluke?
Well through 12 games, this team is proving that they’re a legitimate threat.
The wins are coming and with an 8-4-0 record, the Jackets are tied for 2nd in the Eastern Conference. While it is the beginning season and it’s a time when teams tend to overachieve, Columbus isn’t just seeing success in the standings, they’re playing damn good hockey.
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They’re a strong possession team, sitting 4th in Corsi For% (53.87). Goal scoring isn’t a problem, the team is 6th in Goals For % (57.14) and have found the back of the net 37 times in their first 12 games.
It also helps to have Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes on most nights. His 1.97 GAA is stunning and his .934 SV% ranks 7th in the league. He’s off to another Vezina caliber season. The other thing with Bobrovsky that you can’t quantify in a number is trust. The d-core, which is still fairly young, knows that when the game’s on the line they can take a little bit more of a risk because #72 is behind them. That’s something that can’t be overlooked.
Up front, their depth is incredible. They have nine players scoring at a 0.5ppg rate or better through their first 12 games. That ranks top five in the NHL. You don’t even have to watch this team to see how deep their forward group is. Just look on paper and you’ll see that the team’s leading goal scorer, Sonny Milano, is playing on the fourth line. Alex Wennberg, who’s coming off a 59 point season is centering a very productive third line.
John Tortorella has so many weapons at his disposal, and when one line is having an off night, he has three other reliable forward groups. That not only shows in their possession stats, as I pointed out above but in their domination on the shot clock. They’re 36.4 shots per game is 3rd and their 30.9 shots against per game is 7th.
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This is going to sound a little weird, but follow me on this one. It’s a good thing that we can look at this Blue Jackets team and find holes in their game. Are they playing really good hockey? Absolutely. Is this their best? Not even close. This team is winning games, and I can still see spots where they can improve. If they can win games and compete with deficiencies in their game, imagine if they start firing on all cylinders.
Let’s start with special teams. Their penalty kill is off to a fine start at 84.4%, which ranks 6th. But their powerplay is simply horrendous. After finishing last year at 19.9%, they’re off to a start that has them firing at 8.6%. That’s worst in the NHL.
Not just the percentage, but the timing has been bad as well. In the four games that they’ve lost, they’ve drawn ten penalties and only scored once. Not only the results, they just aren’t generating enough momentum with the man advantage. That could be the difference in these close games.
I cited their depth above, and it’s been great, but it can be even better. They have nine players scoring at a 0.5 ppg or better, like I said above, but Brandon Dubinsky, Pierre Luc-Dubois, and Boone Jenner have combined for just 2 goals and 2 assists in 29 games. If that line can get going, assuming they stay together, it’s just another wave of attack to throw at the opposition.