The fourth month of the 2020-21 season saw the Columbus Blue Jackets crater as badly as they have since the organization’s early days. The team’s record in April was 2–10–2. You’d think it would take the Hubble telescope to find three stars in the rubble of the past month.
The team’s record was buoyed by a shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings in the final game of the month. But that followed an overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, a game in which the Blue Jackets lost one-goal leads twice.
I was tempted to reward players who were getting regular ice time for the first time. Players such as Eric Robinson, who had a two-goal game in an overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 25, or Zac Dalpe with his first two goals of the year, which were also his first goals as a Blue Jacket and his first since the 2016-17 season with the Minnesota Wild.
There was also the possibility of rewarding hard workers, including Seth Jones, who registered 1–4–5 in 14 games while playing about 25 minutes per game. Or Michael Del Zotto 2–2–4 in 13 games, who saw his average time on ice jump from around 13 minutes per game to over 20 after Zach Werenski was injured. Heck, Werenski himself was on his way to a fine month before his season-ending injury, with three goals and five points in just five games.
And the goalies? While they’re not fully to blame for the Blue Jackets’ losing streak, surrendering about 3.7 goals per game doesn’t add up to a monthly star for me. For every highlight-reel save, there seemed to be an out-of-position or bad-rebound goal. Elvis Merzlikins’ shutout win in the month’s final game, with Joonas Korpisalo done for the year with a lower-body injury, didn’t tip the balance far enough.
Nope. I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I sat down with my abacus and looked at game logs. The players who produced the most during April earned the three stars for the month.
Third Star: Jack Roslovic
Jack Roslovic scored three goals and added four assists during April. He also found himself back in the center regularly after spending much of the season flipping to the wing. His faceoff percentage, one of the absolute worst in the NHL for the season, got a bit of a boost with several good showings during the month. As for the “eye test,” he seemed more comfortable and confident with the puck in the offensive zone and showed general improvement in his defensive game.
Roslovic was named one of the game’s stars twice during the month (third star both times) and was the only non-goalie to earned “top performer” for the Blue Jackets more than once during the month.
Second Star: Max Domi
How does a player who was benched for a pair of games (for the first time in his career) earn second-star honors? If I ranked strictly by points for the month, Max Domi would be the first star. But I’m penalizing him for penalties. Twice he took 14 minutes in penalties – twice in the span of three games. And they were stupid penalty minutes (PIMs). Let’s not forget, too, that Domi was the man in the box on April 25, when the Lightning scored the game-tying powerplay goal with less than three minutes left in regulation en route to a Tampa Bay overtime victory.
Here’s an interesting side note on Domi’s PIMs: He leads the league as of this writing with 71. And, as Sean McIndoe of The Athletic pointed out recently unless something drastic happens, this will be the first year in the history of the NHL in which the scoring leader has more points (Connor McDavid, currently at 84 points) than the leader in PIMs. (from “Down Goes Brown: Connor McDavid’s 100, Leafs vs. Habs, and six more things to root for down the stretch,” The Athletic, April 29, 2001.)
Oh, and one more strike against poor Max: In the shootout win over Detroit on April 27, his silly little dangle just outside the blue line led to an offside call that nullified what would have been a regulation (and game-winning?) goal by Oliver Bjorkstrand. Watch the right side of the ice carefully and you’ll see that he moves the puck laterally just before crossing the blue line. If he had waited a fraction of a second for that needless move, he would have been across the line and there would have been no offside to overturn Bjorkstrand’s beautiful goal.
So, despite his two goals and seven assists for a team-leading nine points in April, including an assist and the game-winning goal in the team’s only regulation victory, Domi is “only” the second star of the month.
First Star: Oliver Bjorkstrand
Oliver Bjorkstrand was credited with two goals and six assists for eight points in 14 games during April. In the month’s final game, he also scored a beautiful goal that was nullified by an offside call – see the video above – and scored that game’s shootout-clinching goal – see the video below. (Patrik Laine had the actual game-winner.)
The first-period goal that was overturned would have given Bjorkstrand a six-game scoring streak (including one multi-point game). As it stands, he leads the Blue Jackets in both goals (15) and points (38). Using the math you’ll find in this article, in an 82-game season, he’d be on pace for 24 goals and 61 points, both of which would be career highs.
Looking at May
Mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, there are only five games remaining in the Blue Jackets’ 2020-21 season. They start the month this evening at the Carolina Hurricanes, then finish the campaign at home for two against the Nashville Predators and a pair against the Red Wings. Those last two games may determine which of the clubs are finishing last in the Central Division (and, therefore, has a better chance of winning the draft lottery). They also offer the Blue Jackets a chance to continue to avenge themselves for the losses at the end of March that signaled the beginning of the end for this season.
Watch for young players trying to break into next season’s lineup and unrestricted free agents trying to prove they deserve a new contract (either with the Blue Jackets or another team). It’s tough to guess at this point which players will be on the ice, which will be on the taxi squad, and which will be in the press box. We’ll see who plays – and how well they play – as the season comes to an end. Mercifully, we hope. To end this story on a high note, Columbus currently has three first-round picks in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, now scheduled for late July.
Pete Bauer is both a hockey fan and player. As a columnist for The Hockey Writers.com, he covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, NCAA hockey, and NHL trends, statistics, and history. He’s considered the go-to guy for info on the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHL Players’ Association and other hockey-related legal mumbo-jumbo. He’s a frequent guest on a variety of podcasts. You’ll find all of his THW columns here. Pete is also the author of over a dozen books on photography, digital imaging, and graphics, including “Photoshop CC for Dummies.”