The third month of the 2020-21 season had highs and lows for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The team ended the month with a convincing 3–1 victory over the Discover™ Central Division juggernaut Tampa Bay Lightning. However, that followed a pair of very miserable losses to the lowly Detroit Red Wings. The team clawed its way into a playoff spot. Then tumbled right back out. Overall, the team won six, lost five, and earned a “loser point” in overtime and shootout losses three times. In the standings, they earned only 15 of a possible 28 points. Did the Blue Jackets even have three players worthy of being called “stars” in such a month? Yes, they did.
Let’s break down the team’s performance before we look at the individual performances. The team won six games, including two in overtime (the team’s first OT wins this season) and one in a shootout (only their second shootout win). They lost five games in regulation, two in OT, and one in a shootout. If you’re counting, six of 14 games in March went past regulation. Those are six games that could have been regulation wins if there had been one more goal, one more save, or even one more timely blocked shot.
The Blue Jackets took five of a possible eight points from the Carolina Hurricanes, another of the division powerhouses, with two wins and a loss all coming in overtime or a shootout (as well as a regulation loss). But they also handed Carolina six of a possible eight points. Ouch! The division’s other top team, the Florida Panthers, won both games against Columbus in March (one in OT). The Dallas Stars, competing with the Blue Jackets for the final playoff spot in the division, split four games, with each club winning one, losing one, and both clubs gaining one loser point.
And then there was Detroit. The month started with a nice 4–1 victory for the Blue Jackets, but that was more than offset by the humiliating pair of losses at the end of the month (3–1 and 4–1).
Third Star: Zach Werenski
Defenseman Zach Werenski stayed healthy and played in all 14 games during March. He also looked much more like last year’s version of himself. He scored three goals (including one in OT) and added seven assists for 10 points. His plus/minus was even for March and a pair of his points came on the power play.
He was named one of the game’s stars three times during the month, and earned “top performer” for the Blue Jackets three times.
Second Star: Joonas Korpisalo
It looks a bit strange to give a star to a goalie whose record for the month was 3–3–2, but the number of highlight-reel saves Joonas Korpisalo made during March was incredible! Interestingly, he played exactly 60 minutes in only his first two starts of the month. Two games went past regulation time. He was yanked from his third start with just over 10 minutes left, after surrendering four goals on 22 shots. In the other three games, Korpisalo went to the bench for an extra attacker. In one of the games, the Blue Jackets tied the game with only 16 seconds left in a 6-on-5 situation.
Korpisalo was named one of the game’s stars on four occasions during March, including one Blue Jackets’ loss. He was named the Blue Jackets’ top performer twice — one a shutout loss, the other a shootout loss.
First Star: Oliver Bjorkstrand
Oliver Bjorkstrand led the team in scoring (both goals and points) during March, with a stat line of 7–7–14 and plus-2. He was the nail-in-the-coffin in the Blue Jackets’ lone shootout win during the month. (It was his only game-winner in March.) He was named the First Star of the game once, in an overtime loss to Florida in which he scored the game’s first two goals and added an assist. (He earned the top performer for that game as well.)
Bjorkstrand currently leads the team in points for the 2020-21 season, with 30 in 37 games. He’s tied (with Cam Atkinson) for the team lead in goals with 13.
Other Notable Performances
A number of other Blue Jackets performed well enough to warrant a mention:
Jack Roslovic earns this status for the second straight month, with nine points in March (two goals, seven assists). Joining him are Atkinson (4–4–8) and Seth Jones (3–4–7).
Also of Merit
Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner, and Max Domi each tallied a pair of goals and three assists.
No player had more than one game-winning goal. But those that did include Riley Nash, Eric Robinson, Werenski, Jones (in OT), David Savard, and Bjorkstrand (in a shootout).
Looking at April
During the month of April, the Blue Jackets face incredible pressure as they try to earn the fourth and final playoff position in the Discover Central Division. They start the month in sixth place in the division, three points behind both Chicago and the Nashville Predators (all three teams having played 37 games). The Stars are only four points behind Columbus and have played four fewer games played. The Blue Jackets also no longer hold the first tie-breaker (regulation wins) over any team in the division, not even the Red Wings.
Just to get back into the race, they’ll need a hot streak. Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, the first five games of April are against the Lightning and at the Panthers. Those games are not only important in terms of playoff position, they will likely determine whether or not the club will be “sellers” or “buyers” at the trade deadline on April 12.
The rest of the month includes a pair of home games against the Chicago Blackhawks (straddling the trade deadline), two at Dallas, another pair on the road against Florida, then two in Tampa, and a final game at home vs. Detroit. It won’t be an easy month for the Blue Jackets, but it could be transformative.
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.”