The Columbus Blue Jackets were on a bit of a roll before the Olympic Break. They set a team record 8 game win streak, their powerplay was starting to ignite with the re-unification of Wisnewski and Jack Johnson on the point, and Sergei Bobrovsky was returning to his Vezina Trophy winning form. Currently the Jackets sit 1 point outside the last wildcard spot in the East, but what are the keys for them to make the post season for the 2ndtime in franchise history? The keys for success are somewhat universal for all teams in the NHL. Strong defensive play, stellar goaltending and depth scoring make a championship caliber team. Do the Jackets have what it takes to be a threat in the postseason?
Blue Jackets’ Defense
Defense is a must-have for any team that aspires to lift the Stanley Cup. The Blue Jackets defense is scattered with veterans and young studs. With Jack Johnson and James Wisnewski manning the first defensive unit for the Blue Jackets, they have owned one of the best records in the NHL since the start of the New Year (12-5-1). Young studs like Ryan Murray and David Savard have impressed as well. Murray holds a +/- of 3 with 19 points. David Savard has a +/- of 2 with 11 points. Great defensive play with ALL units is a major key in determining the success of a hockey club, and the Jackets seem to be on their way to owning a top-tier defensive roster.
Goaltending is also a major factor in determining post season success. With Sergei Bobrovsky fresh off his Vezina winning season, the Jackets expected to roll right out of the gates. Bobrovsky struggled early in the season, sharing his starts with backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney. Since the start of the New Year, however, Bobrovsky has been standing on his head, rebounding to a record of 20-14-3 with a .918 save percentage. A few good bursts of goaltending isn’t enough to maintain a playoff run. McElhinney has to step up in the back-up role.
His play hasn’t been terrible, but it hasn’t been great either. Mcelhinney is 8-9-1 in 18 starts with a GAA of 2.80 and a .908 save percentage. If the Jackets wants to make a deep postseason run, they need quality play from their starting and back-up goalies. The worry of having a good back-up goaltender may not be a problem for long, though. The Blue Jackets have a young and up and coming star in the CHL named Oscar Dansk. Dansk was the 31st overall pick by the CBJ in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. In 32 games with the Erie Otters in the OHL, Dansk is 23-7-1 with a .916 save percentage and 6 shutouts. 6 shutouts in 32 games is impressive no matter the level. The only question is can Oscar Dansk maintain that level of play in the NHL. If he can, the Jackets will be set at the Goaltender position for a long time to come.
The final key for Jackets success in the latter half of the season is depth scoring. The Jackets currently have a high scoring first and second line core with Dubinsky, Anisimov, Horton and Umberger, all with a combined 103 points (Horton only has 18 games played with the Jackets with 11 points) but the main story of this season is the emergence of young studs like Cam Atkinson and Ryan Johansen. Ryan Johansen leads the team in points with 46 points in 58 games. Atkinson has 32 points in the same amount of games as Johansen. Not to mention the checkers and grinders that have contributed to the scoresheet as well (yes you Nick Foligno). If the 3rd and 4th line can continue to contribute like they have, that will take off some of the pressure on the defense and the entire team will be working as one cohesive unit. One cohesive unit with stars like Horton and Dubinsky mixed in with the young guns can only lead to furthered success for the CBJ, and they could be a darkhorse leading in to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.