The first calendar month of the NHL’s 2020-21 season is in the books. After a rather nasty start to the season (two losses to the Nashville Predators), the Columbus Blue Jackets bounced back and gained points in the standings in seven straight games. The month of January, however, ended with a bitter taste in a sloppy loss to the Detroit Red Wings. On the sweet side, several players performed up to and beyond expectations to open the season.
As the month turned, the Blue Jackets were tied for first place in the Discover™ Central Division. That, however, was due more to the number of games played than it was to the quality of play. The Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Blue Jackets were tied atop the division with 11 points, one more than the Carolina Hurricanes and two points up on the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks. However, Columbus and Chicago have both played 10 games, while the other four teams had only six games in January.
Third Star: Oliver Bjorkstrand
With three goals and five assists, Oliver Bjorkstrand led the team with eight points. Thanks to a fighting major and a game misconduct (Jan. 18, vs. the Red Wings), he also led the team in penalty minutes with 19 PIMs. That victory in Detroit was one of three games in January in which Bjorkstrand had a goal and an assist.
Bjorkstrand also had two-point games in an overtime loss to the Lightning and a win in Chicago. His other two points in January, both assists, came in OT/SO losses against the Red Wings and Panthers. His plus-four rating in his two-point games and the OT loss to Detroit were offset by his minus-five in four other games.
Second Star: Alexandre Texier
Alexandre Texier led the team with four goals in January. He added a pair of assists to end the month tied for second in scoring (with Boone Jenner). And he did it while playing center rather than on the wing.
Head coach John Tortorella rewarded Texier’s performance with increased responsibility, not only by switching him to center, but also by keeping him on the ice. Texier and Bjorkstrand were tied for the lead in time on ice among forwards at 17:52 per game. “It’s easy for me to put him on the ice because I think he works so hard at his game,” Torts said.
First Star: Joonas Korpisalo
Joonas Korpisalo would have shared this First Star award with his battery mate, Elvis Merzlikins, if Merzlikins hadn’t just about single-handedly lost the month’s finale in Chicago. Korpisalo’s 2-1-2 record, with a .936 save percentage (SV%) and 2.17 goals-against average (GAA) for the month are actually a step up from his 2019-20 stats (.911 SV%, 2.60 GAA). Korpisalo ranked second in the league in SV% among goalies who had appeared in at least five games. Only four goalies with at least five appearances had a lower GAA for January.
But sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story. Korpisalo made some incredible saves in each of his five starts – one worth watching again was Korpisalo’s pure robbery of Blackhawks’ star Patrick Kane.
Boone Jenner (three goals, three assists) and Nick Foligno (three goals, one assist) were the only Blue Jackets other than Texier and Bjorkstrand to score at least three goals in January. But just as noteworthy: They were the only Blue Jackets to win over 50% of their faceoffs. (Jenner: 28 of 54, 51.9%, Foligno: 36 of 68, 52.9%).
There should be little doubt that everyone in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization is hoping that, a month from now, the hands-down First Star will be Patrik Laine. The high-scoring winger arrived in a blockbuster trade for Pierre-Luc Dubois, the former first-line center. The other February stars? It would be nice to see defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski fighting for a star after forgettable Januarys. And for the Blue Jackets to be successful in February, one or both goalies likely will need to perform at a “Star” level.
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.”