Blue Jackets Preparing for Playoffs

At this point in the season, you’ve likely heard about the Columbus Blue Jackets and their 15-straight-wins-and-counting streak. They haven’t lost a single game during the month of December, and on top of that, they’ve won several games in which they’ve scored six to 10 goals in:

  • Dec. 10, 2016, Vs. NYI: 6-2 CBJ
  • Dec. 20, 2016, Vs. PIT: 7-1 CBJ
  • Nov. 12, 2016, Vs. STL: 8-4 CBJ
  • Nov. 4, 2016, Vs. MTL: 10-0 CBJ

Considering the state they were in last season, finishing last in the Metropolitan Division, who would have projected them to end up where they are now? They’ve exceeded a lot of expectations, and the way they’re going is a good indicator of how well they’ll do in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In a fairly recent interview with Dean Lombardi, general manager of the Los Angeles Kings, he briefly talked about the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won the 2016 Stanley Cup, in a sit down for ‘Coffee with Bob’, and this is some of what he had to say:

… part of a great regular season is that you’re getting better throughout the whole season, and you’re starting to peak at the right time. You can see it. Pittsburgh’s formula is very similar – different team – but you saw those young players come up, there actually had been a coaching change, look at their record going into the playoffs. You catch people off guard, because they had their struggles early, but if you looked at that team from January on, that is where you want to be…

Columbus Blue Jackets Peak at Right Time

We’re actually seeing this exact same scenario roll out in Columbus:

  • They’re getting better throughout the season.
  • They have many young players coming up: Josh Anderson, Boone Jenner, William Karlsson, Lukas Sedlak, Alexander Wennberg, Scott Harrington, Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara and Zach Werenski (all these guys are 23 or younger).
  • There had been a coaching change when they fired Todd Richards and brought in John Tortorella.
  • People were caught off guard by their sudden improvement.
  • They had their struggles early, especially in the 2015-16 season.

When it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, though, winning games requires a different strategy than it does during the regular season. The Columbus Blue Jackets are accustomed to playing a different team every game night, and the playoffs just don’t work that way. So what’s going to happen if they get stuck playing a team who’s strength is their strength? Will they be able to sustain record-setting wins if they face the San Jose Sharks four to seven games in a row?

The Power Play Is Trending

For those who’ve been keeping up with the Columbus Blue Jackets, you’re well aware their special teams aren’t just special, they’re royal. They’ve established themselves as forces not to be reckoned with, and as a result, the Blue Jackets are leading the NHL on the power play.

Utilizing the power play to win games seems to be trending right now. It’s how the United States were finally able to beat Canada at the 2017 World Juniors on New Year’s Eve. They scored two power-play goals during the first period and ended up beating Canada 3-1 by the end of the night.

It’s also how the Los Angeles Kings lost in the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs when the San Jose Sharks made beating them their official priority.

  • 2010-11: Beat the Kings in the Conference Quarterfinals, 4-2
  • 2011-12: Kings won Stanley Cup
  • 2012-13: Lost to the Kings in Conference Semi-finals, 3-4
  • 2013-14: Lost in the First Round, 3-4 and Kings won Stanley Cup
  • 2015-16: Beat the Kings in the First Round, 4-1

The Sharks have spent the last two decades fighting for a Stanley Cup, and they knew their only chance at eventually winning one would rely on a plan to wipe out the Kings early on during the playoffs. So when the Sharks played the Blue Jackets on Oct. 15 and Oct. 27, 2016, it really wasn’t all that surprising to see the Sharks come out on top.

The underlying question is, will the Blue Jackets be prepared in time to face the San Jose Sharks during the playoffs?

The only teams who’ve had success in beating the Blue Jackets rank high on the penalty kill:

  1. Carolina Hurricanes
  2. Boston Bruins (beat Columbus twice)
  3. Washington Capitals
  4. St. Louis Blues (beat Columbus once)
  5. Minnesota Wild
  6. Toronto Maple Leafs
  7. Florida Panthers (beat Columbus once)
  8. New York Rangers
  9. San Jose Sharks (beat Columbus twice)
  10. Los Angeles Kings (beat Columbus once)

There’s actually one team who saw victory over Columbus this season, who doesn’t rank among the top 10 for penalty killing, and that is the Calgary Flames, who currently rank at #17.

Although the Sharks won’t be playing against the Blue Jackets again during the 2016-17 regular season, if both teams do make the 2017 playoffs, Columbus may need to re-evaluate their strategy for success.