We’ve now played a full month of the Blue Jackets season. The team stands at 5-6-0 and is tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference Standings, just 1 point out of the 8th playoff spot. In an effort to keep the short term goals contstantly at the forefront, while still not losing the big picture dreams of a playoff run, John Davidson, Jarmo Kekalainen and Todd Richards need to take things one month at a time. Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights and grade each facet of the team as we head into November.
One-month Report Card
It’s early, and there is a whole lot of hockey left to play. But after one month, Columbus is in much better shape than last year, after starting 3-6-2 in their first 11. If history can repeat itself this season, the Blue Jackets are looking pretty solid if they can have another mid-to-late-season run this time around.
I would really like to be optimisitic here. There are 4 guys that are playing at mid-season form and could all be 50+ point scorers when everything is said and done – something that hasn’t happened since 5 players had 50 or more points in 2009-2010.
- Marian Gaborik is on pace to score just south of 40 goals this year, and leads the team with 5 goals and 10 points. Scoring 40 would be one heck of a welcome surprise out of Gabby.
- Brandon Dubinsky (3G-5A–8points) is playing as tough as ever, although he hasn’t been named Captain yet.
- Artem Anisimov (4-3–7) looks rejuvenated this season and has been playing on the top line with Gaborik and Nick Foligno lately.
- Ryan Johansen (3-4–7) might be playing his way into the top line and Cam Atkinson (3-2–5) is as scrappy and agile as ever. I won’t be surprised to see either of these 2 guys turn in a spectacular season.
The key to the offense is depth, and right now, things aren’t looking all that bad. Jared Boll has yet to register a point and has just 14 penalty minutes, and isn’t expected to score, but Derek Mackenzie is, and also doesn’t have a point yet this season. The key here is keeping the depth and getting some additional scoring from those guys who aren’t yet. Boone Jenner is one of those guys. Although he scored twice against Montreal and looked like a seasoned veteran, that was a one time thing. Jenner will need to develop a bit more after he recovers from the injury that is currently keeping him out of the lineup, and that means being consistent and putting the puck in the net more.
“I don’t think that we’ve fallen short offensively in our games,” General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “Even in the games that we’ve lost, we created a lot of offensive chances. I think offensively, we have to be able to use opportunities to our advantage and finish them off, rather than waste great opportunities that we worked hard for. When you get the grade-A chances, you have to finish them. I think it’s a matter of execution and a little bit of learning, but I don’t think offense has been our problem.”
James Wisneiwski is 1 point away from the team lead in points and 2 away from the NHL lead. Ryan Murray continues to improve and scored his first goal just a few days back. Jack Johnson has 2 power play goals on the season which is great, but he’s also sporting a team-worst -4 rating. That must improve for the Jackets to be successful.
“We can put teams on the ropes if we play our game,” Kekalainen would continue. “Maybe the results haven’t been exactly what we wanted, but I think that part of the learning process for a young team is that you not only have to put teams on the ropes, but you have to finish them off. We’re finding that the margin for error is very small, and if you don’t use the opportunities to your advantage, your opponents will.”
Just like it was from Boone Jenner, consistency will be the key here. David Savard looks great, as does Murray and of course Fedor Tyutin is his usual self – always solid on the blueliner. As Jarmo said, this deep defensive group needs to keep putting teams on the ropes, but needs to start to put them away too.
Take a gander over at my fellow Blue Jacket’s writer Matthew Souva’s take on the youth movement on the Columbus Blue Line.
Grade: With Jack Johnson included: C, without him: B-. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with him for now.
Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to stand on his head every night he plays. Can he really stand up to that pressure? I’m not so sure. Curtis McElhinney proved that Bob won’t necessarily be needed to stand on his head every night. McElhinney provides a great backup option with experience and should be utilized more through the heart of the season. Bob is 4-6-0, and is allowing 2.6 goals against and has a .916 save percentage. Not bad, but also nowhere near his numbers from last year (2.00 GAA and .932 Sv%). Bob could be better, but I think this is actually more the fault of the defense than the goaltending.
The Blue Jackets needed to develop a solid power play this season, and this was one of my wishes for the Jackets from the beginning of the season. I can’t say it’s firing on all cylinders, but it is better. The Jackets have scored on 20% of their power play chances (8 goals on 40 chances). Jack Johnson has 2 power play goals, and Ryan Murray has 1, so 3 of the 8 PPGs have come from the blueline.
On the other side of things, the Penalty Kill is 22nd in the league at 78.4%. Not exactly where you want to be on the kill. The good news is that they have allowed 8 goals – equal to the number of power play goals, which in my mind is a win. Throw in 2 short handed goals (one by Artem Anisimov and a dramatic game-winner by Brandon Dubinsky that is highlighted below) and I could be more forgiving on the special teams. But I won’t be. Both the penalty kill and power play need to be better.
Opening Night wasn’t over the top, but seeing the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, open the season with a ceremonial puck drop was fantastic.
Rookie Boone Jenner scored twice against Montreal. The Blue Jackets came back in this game, but couldn’t finish – something that Jarmo mentioned from above, and needs to start happening. Check out his first NHL goal here.
Curtis McElhinney makes a great stop, and the Jackets beat Vancouver 3-1 to start a 3-game winning streak. So far, this is the save of the season for the Blue Jackets.
Brandon Dubinsky’s shorthanded game winner in game 10 against Toronto. LASER. BEAM. This was the game winner in the 3rd and final game of the 3-game winning streak that ended last week.
Summing it Up
One final thought from Jarmo on the young season that, once again, gives us hope: “There’s room for improvement there but we’ve created chances and finished them in most of our games. I think, with our play, we’ve showed as we did in the spring time with that great run that we can compete with anyone in this league.”
To quickly stack up Columbus’ efforts against the rest of the NHL, check out these numbers:
Offense: 2.73 goals per game (16th in the NHL)
Defense: 2.64 goals a game (13th)
Special Teams: even-strength differential is 0.94 (15th). This shows that they are playing well when they (and their opponents) are at full strength.
The Blue Jackets can do much better this season. There’s a lot of hockey yet to play (71 games, thank goodness), and for right now, I’m not entirely disappointed in their performance.
Overall Grade: C
Tonight, the Jackets faceoff against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first game of a home-and-home series. The Jackets are home for 4 in a row starting with Pittsburgh on Saturday.