The Columbus Blue Jackets managed a split of their first two games of the season. It took overtime Thursday, but thanks to Artemi Panarin, they skated out of Little Caesars Arena with a 3-2 win. But then Friday in front of a sell-out home crowd, the Blue Jackets couldn’t find their offense and lost 3-1.
What did we learn from these two games? We certainly have plenty to watch for the rest of the month. Here are my takeaways from the opening games for the Blue Jackets.
Brandon Dubinsky on a Mission
For the first time since December 2017, Brandon Dubinsky recorded points in back-to-back games. He setup Josh Anderson’s goal in Detroit and scored the only goal Friday against the Hurricanes. Having a rejuvenated Dubinsky is a big deal for this team.
He’s the heart, soul, energy guy that was sorely missing last season thanks primarily to injuries. He had a good summer and came to camp this season on a mission to prove he still has plenty to give.
His line with Josh Anderson and Boone Jenner was in John Tortorella’s mind, the best line. They especially shined in Detroit where they were excellent at both ends of the ice. They got split up Friday in an effort to find more offense.
If the Blue Jackets consistently get this version of Dubinsky, that is a welcome relief and it bodes well for the rest of the season. Let’s see if he can keep it up.
Joonas Korpisalo’s Strong Debut
In a mild surprise, the Blue Jackets turned to Joonas Korpisalo to start the season opener in Detroit. Clearly they wanted to send a message to Sergei Bobrovsky.
Actually, no they didn’t. Tortorella said the plan the whole time was for the goalies to split the games. The Hurricanes are the division rival and the better team. Why not save your number one for them and give Korpisalo a young Red Wings’ team?
Korpisalo was outstanding Thursday making key saves to help get the game to overtime. This is the kind of play that will allow him to earn more starts down the road. The question now moving forward is can he string a set of good games together when called upon?
Korpisalo is in a contract year. Bobrovsky’s future is cloudy at best. Elvis Merzlikins is seemingly on deck. This is Korpisalo’s chance to prove he should be the man. At least on opening night, he had a good game. Now the team needs more.
Defense Key to Rest of October
Seth Jones is gone for another few weeks. As such, the success of the Blue Jackets will be determined mostly by how the defense plays. Let’s call it a mixed bag in these two games.
Thursday against the Red Wings, they played well for the most part. Gabriel Carlsson struggled at times. He found himself on the bench Friday as a result. Adam Clendening took his place.
It didn’t matter Friday. The Hurricanes were the better and faster team all around. But if there is an obvious void, it’s the void Jones leaves when he’s out. His absence dramatically alters the back end of the team. In other words, Clendening or Carlsson replaces Jones. You go from Norris contender to fringe player. One can’t overstate how big a loss this is.
If the Blue Jackets want to hang around, they must find a way to scratch victories out without their best defenseman. Zach Werenski is going to play a ton. David Savard, Marcus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray are also going to log big minutes. They have to play steady. If they don’t, they’ll face a big climb later when Jones does return.
The Blue Jackets won’t clinch the playoffs in October. But they can lose a lot of ground (see 2015-16 season.) This defense needs to hold the fort as best they can.
Blue Jackets Need More All Around
We mentioned Dubinsky’s line was good. Everyone else? Well, not so much. It took the middle of game two before Tortorella turned the blender on high speed.
It’s early, but the Blue Jackets need more from everyone. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cam Atkinson and right on down the line all need to bring more to their games. If Tortorella thought Dubinsky’s line was best and that’s the line not known for explosive offense, it tells you everything you need to know about the rest of the forwards.
It’s simple. The Blue Jackets need to get to work. They’ll have an off day Saturday and then two practice days leading up to their next game against Colorado on Tuesday night.
There’s no need to panic, yet. Let’s see where the team is at on Thanksgiving before we start making more serious judgments. In the meantime, their best players need to play like their best players especially with Jones out. Anything short of that and you get a game like Friday.
Two down, 80 to go. The new season is officially underway and there’s plenty of work left to do.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.