If I were to tell you that the Columbus Blue Jackets are currently on a six-game point streak 10 games into the season, you’d instantly sign up for that. No need to sign up. They are 5-3-2 with points in six straight entering Saturday night’s game in Philadelphia.
The time has come to check in on the team. New this season, we are doing these pieces in five-game intervals. In case you missed the first installment, you may read it here.
Before the season started, we outlined five things the Blue Jackets must do in order for them to make the playoffs. In this space, we’ll see if they are trending towards those goals.
Here are the five things we outlined in the preseason that must happen in our sight for the Blue Jackets to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
- Joonas Korpisalo .920 or higher save percentage.
- Alexander Wennberg 50 points.
- Seth Jones Norris contender.
- Texier/Bemstrom/Milano combined 30 goals or more.
- At least 20% power-play conversion.
Here are the numbers on each of these components in the last five games.
- Korpisalo 3-0-1, 2.55 GAA and .907 save percentage.
- Wennberg 2-0-2 in his last five games.
- Jones 1-3-4 in his last five games.
- Texier 1-0-1/Bemstrom 0-1-1/Milano 2-1-3 in their last five games.
- Power-play conversion: 1/15 during these five games, 6.7%
Here are the overall numbers for the season after 10 games.
- Korpisalo 5-2-1, 2.72 GAA and .901 save percentage.
- Wennberg 2-3-5 in 10 games.
- Jones 1-5-6 in 10 games, tied for team lead in points.
- Texier/Bemstrom/Milano combined four goals in 10 games.
- Power-play conversion: 4/30 overall, 13.3% (24th in NHL).
Korpisalo is the clear number-one starter in Columbus at least for now. He’s been good enough to keep the Blue Jackets in games despite allowing at least two goals in all of his games.
What has stood out to me is the timeliness of his saves. The Blue Jackets have allowed the sixth-fewest shots in the NHL at the 10-game mark at 29.6 so he isn’t busy as compared to his counterparts. But he is making timely saves when needed.
After allowing three first period goals to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, he shut the door the rest of the night. That’s what you want to see especially after a rough period. In this case, Ryan Murray broke his stick and Cam Atkinson stepped on the puck each leading to goals against.
The Blue Jackets dominated the second period to tie the game. Then when needed, Korpisalo made the saves he had to make.
I personally would like to continue seeing that save percentage creep up. He is over .900 now which is great given the start he had. He needs to keep it going. According to Hockey Reference, the league average save percentage as of this writing is .909. He is at .901. Can he win games 1-0 or 2-1 if the situation calls for it? That’s the next phase I am watching for because at some point, these games will come up. But trending in his favor, he will get a majority of the starts to really get in a groove.
How can you not be impressed with the response Wennberg has had to start this season? He’s scoring goals. He’s dishing out assists. He’s playing more with the puck and making more decisive plays. This is as good of a start as anyone could hope for.
With his five points in 10 games, Wennberg is trending to break 40 points and could get toward that 50-point plateau. But it’s his overall play that is worth the attention. He’s improving in faceoffs. He’s up to 53.9% this season, by far the best start to his career. He’s playing in all situations and most importantly, he has the trust of John Tortorella.
The thing I will watch for is if he can stay consistent. He’s going to draw more attention. Can he keep this up over a longer stretch. If we’re still talking like this at Thanksgiving, then we’re on to something.
Jones has been much better in these last five games than the first five. Yet I still feel like he has so much more to give. When the expectations are competing for a Norris, you’re always looking for more.
Jones is now on the plus side of 50% in CF% after having a terrible start. Per Nat Stat Trick, Jones sits at 50.73% CF% at 5-on-5. His xGF% is over 52% as well. Considering he usually sees the opposition’s best, this is very encouraging.
The thing I am watching for is continuing to reach new levels of dominance. When he wants to, he can take over a game by himself. But can he get to a place where it consistently happens for him? If the Blue Jackets want to keep the good start going, Jones has to play like a top-five defenseman every night. These last five games are suggesting that it’s coming for him, but it’s still a work in progress. Let’s see if he can infuse life into a power-play unit in need of a spark. More on that soon.
It hasn’t been easy for Texier and Bemstrom. Each are going through the gauntlet of a long NHL season. Each are now on the Blue Jackets’ fourth line for now.
Every young player goes through stretches like this. It’s valuable experience for them to learn that they will have times when things aren’t going their way. Texier is fighting it some. Bemstrom is too, to the point of being taken off the power play completely at this time.
To their credit, they have developed a comfort level playing with Riley Nash. They opened the scoring Thursday taking advantage of a four-on-one rush. Texier finished the play and Bemstrom set it up. Let’s see if this gets them going.
Meanwhile Milano is in the top-nine and playing well for himself. He has two goals, both of the beautiful variety. If he can continue to make smart decisions with the puck instead of always thinking offense, he could work himself into a much bigger role. It’s on him to continue showing Tortorella that he can trust him for more ice time.
Combined, the trio has four goals. That’s trending to be over 30 goals between them. They are in position to make an impact. But can they overcome the adversity and earn more ice time?
Here we go again. The power play, as is tradition, is a topic of conversation with Blue Jackets’ fans. They have just one power-play goal in their last 15 chances in their last five games. The goal scorer? Wennberg in Toronto.
They are 4/30 on the season. There are seven teams with a worse percentage. In my mind though, the percentage doesn’t tell the full story. 10 games is not enough of a sample size to make a serious conclusion. If they score three PPG’s in their next couple of games, they could be at or over 20% for the season. We need to watch this more as we get closer to Thanksgiving.
Now though, we need to focus on the look of the power play. Are they generating chances? Are they maintaining momentum even after they don’t score? This is a mixed bag. There are times where they look good. Then there are times like the Toronto game where they give up a shorthanded goal at the worst possible time.
What needs to change? If you think it’s coaching, I get it, but that won’t fix everything. While coaching is certainly a part of the equation, your players are a majority of it. They need to make good passes. They need to get good entries into the zone. They need to get setup. It’s on the players to make these things happen.
Instead, watch the Carolina game and see what opponents do. They know the Blue Jackets are struggling there. So what do they do? They turn up the heat pressuring you. The Blue Jackets haven’t consistently demonstrated the ability to produce in the face of that kind of pressure. Until they do, you can bet they’ll continue to see it.
I actually haven’t minded the power play overall despite only having four goals this season. They look more dangerous. Also keep in mind they are the youngest team in the NHL. Even the top guys are still figuring their way through some things. We need to be patient on this front. I know you don’t want to hear that but it’s too early to judge this. If they’re still at 13% or thereabouts in December, the tone of this conversation will change. But for now, this young team deserves the chance to figure things out.
All-in-all, 5-3-2 is a good start for the team. That is a 98-point pace. While there’s much to look forward to, there’s much work left to do. As we move along, the games will only get harder. But given where most had them even before the season began, they should be happy with where they’re at.