Let’s play a game for a minute.
I’m going to make some statements about a certain NHL team. Do you think you can figure out which one it is without looking it up? We’re about to find out.
This NHL team is an insane 7-1-1 against current top-five teams this season. Is it Washington Capitals? Wrong. Try again.
Speaking of the Capitals, however, they’ve lost twice this season, once in overtime, to the team I’m referring to. In return, the Capitals have just one win against this unknown team. I must be talking about the Penguins. Nope, that’s not correct either. The Capitals have defeated the Penguins twice this season.
Who’s left? If you want the answer, stay in the Metropolitan Division. If you read the title of this piece, then you know it’s the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After Thursday night’s 1-0 win over the Minnesota Wild, the Blue Jackets improved to 7-1-1 against the current top-five teams, the Capitals, Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Wild. The Capitals ended the Blue Jackets’ 16-game winning streak while the Penguins got an overtime win. But that’s it.
In terms of goals, the Blue Jackets have outscored these four opponents by a combined 25-18 goal differential. They are also the only team in forever to complete third-period comebacks against the Capitals and win. They have humbled the Penguins by a 7-1 score. They are undefeated against the top-two in the West, going 3-0 against the Blackhawks and Wild combined.
Yes, when we’re discussing the league’s best teams, you must include the Columbus Blue Jackets in the conversation.
It’s one thing to mop up against weaker competition. It’s another to do it against the best. So how are the Blue Jackets able to carry out this incredibly hard task? How are they 7-1-1 against the top-five? It’s simple, really. Start with the goaltender, then work your way out. Remember when GM Jarmo Kekalainen said that was his vision for this team? It’s unfolding right in front of us.
What more can be said about this world-class goaltender? After Thursday’s shutout against the Wild, he has a new career-high 33 wins on the season in 50 games. Overall, he is 33-13-4 with a 2.13 goals-against and .928 save percentage. One of the keys coming into this season was which Bobrovsky would show up. As it turns, it’s vintage, Vezina, Bobrovsky.
Just look at Bobrovsky’s last three starts. He played against Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price and Devan Dubnyk. The results? Three goals against total, including one in overtime. The Blue Jackets went 2-0-1 against those three superstars. When Bobrovsky plays like this, the Blue Jackets are a Stanley Cup contender, despite being one of the youngest teams in the league. How exciting is that, Blue Jackets fans?
A Vastly Improved Defense
Here’s where the Blue Jackets have enjoyed their biggest improvement from last season. Their defense is legit. I can’t even begin to tell you how great the Seth Jones trade looks now. That would take another post to fully explain. Here’s the short version: To get a right-shot d-man of his caliber has transformed the Blue Jackets’ perception. It has allowed the team to put players in position to succeed like never before.
Zach Werenski as a 19-year old can immediately join Jones on the top pair. That allows Jack Johnson and David Savard to play roles suited for them. That then allows Ryan Murray to play the third pair to give the team excellent depth and balance on all pairs. The domino effect gives the forwards confidence to play a fast, up-tempo game knowing that they can recover if a play doesn’t work.
One cannot understate how important it is to properly position players in your lineup. The Jones acquisition goes beyond trading a center for a defenseman. It’s about creating an identity for your team. Starting with Jones and going down the depth chart, the rise of the Blue Jackets starts and ends with the improvement on the blue line and in the crease.
Some Final Numbers
To drive the point home, let’s look at how the Blue Jackets have fared against top-10 teams. Against the New York Rangers, the Blue Jackets are 3-2, including a pair of wins at Madison Square Garden.
The San Jose Sharks, a Cup contender, have two wins against the Blue Jackets by scores of 3-2 and 3-1.
Against the Canadiens, the Blue Jackets went 2-0-1, including the infamous 10-0 game at Nationwide Arena. In a truer measurement of the two teams, the Canadiens won 1-0 in overtime on a power-play goal on Tuesday. That was Carey Price’s only appearance against the Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets swept the Edmonton Oilers in two games while splitting a pair of games against the Ottawa Senators.
Overall, the Blue Jackets have a 15-6-2 record against top-10 teams. They have earned their victories against the best of the best. When all the chips are down, the Blue Jackets can bring it against anyone. Once the playoffs begin, the regular season no longer matters. But if we’re trying to project success in the playoffs, the Blue Jackets have the tools to win.
When the best come calling, the Blue Jackets play their best. That’s what championship teams do.