The Columbus Blue Jackets were feeling very down about themselves at the beginning of December.
On the last day of November, they were shutout by the New York Islanders 2-0. That wasn’t the worst of the news. Zach Werenski had to leave the game due to a shoulder injury. He was expected to be gone four weeks.
Still, the Blue Jackets had to move on without him. They proceed to lose their next three games, 4-2 to Arizona, 3-2 to the New York Rangers and 4-1 to the Florida Panthers. To rub salt in the wounds, both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky won their games against their former club.
No one was happy, not the players, not the coaches, not management. The team had a record of 11-14-4 and a date with the Washington Capitals on tap. There didn’t seem to be an end in sight.
The Blue Jackets had their backs against the wall. If they were going to make anything out of this season, they needed to start winning games. Against the Capitals on Dec 9, they did just that in a convincing way. The Blue Jackets won 5-2 and maybe this was a sign things were starting to turn.
But nope. Against a depleted Pittsburgh Penguins’ team that had no Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin among others, the Blue Jackets couldn’t score a goal and lost 1-0 in overtime. So much for momentum. The team was embarrassed and head coach John Tortorella made no secret of that.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Blue Jackets go to Ottawa next and allow Anthony Duclair to score a hat trick against them. While the Blue Jackets did get a point, it was another bad loss. Were they heading for another slide with the Capitals on tap again?
It was at this point where the Blue Jackets said enough is enough. It was time to make their stand. It was time to climb into the playoff race.
Beginning the Streak
On Dec 16, just one week after defeating the Capitals 5-2, they shut the Capitals out 3-0. Who saw that one coming? It only gets better from here.
Since that overtime loss in Ottawa, the Blue Jackets are 12-2-2 and start Saturday in a playoff spot. The only team to defeat the Blue Jackets in regulation in this stretch is the San Jose Sharks. They did it twice.
So that makes the Blue Jackets 12-0-2 in their last 14 outings not counting the Sharks. That’s a great streak for any team. But it takes on more significance when you consider how many injuries the team has suffered. At one point, the Blue Jackets had 10 regulars out of their lineup. You’re not supposed to win at this rate when you have this many injuries.
This includes losing their All-Star goalie Joonas Korpisalo to a knee injury. Surely the Blue Jackets were going to start losing games now especially considering Elvis Merzlikins was 0-4-4 and still finding his way in the league.
How does Merzlikins respond? In the nine games since the Korpisalo injury, he is 7-2-0 (the two losses against the Sharks.) He posted consecutive shutouts against Vegas and Boston. He stepped right in and hasn’t missed a step. Who saw this coming?
That’s the story. Very few around the hockey world saw this coming. On Dec 15, the Blue Jackets were 12-14-6 and missing key players. But now they are one of the hottest teams in the league and their key contributors are slowly starting to come back.
How Did This Happen?
How in the world have the Blue Jackets pulled this off? It’s well documented that the goaltending and defense have been the driving force for them. But they still have to score goals. While they still need to improve on this area in the second half, the Blue Jackets are getting enough scoring from many contributors.
If it seems like there’s a different hero every night of late, it’s because there has been a different hero on most nights.
Going back to the Dec 9 Washington game which spans the Blue Jackets’ last 13 wins, there have been 11 different players who have recorded a game-winning goal. ELEVEN. That’s a very high number especially when you consider how many players are regular contributors for the Cleveland Monsters. Here is the list of Blue Jackets who have recorded a game-winning goal since Dec 9.
- Pierre-Luc Dubois (3 times)
- Riley Nash
- Eric Robinson
- Oliver Bjorkstrand
- Vladislav Gavrikov
- Boone Jenner
- Kevin Stenlund
- Zach Werenski
- Emil Bemstrom
- Alexander Wennberg
- Nick Foligno
This is a collective team effort. Ever since the injuries started piling up, that’s been the approach of the Blue Jackets. Solid defense. Solid goaltending. Timely scoring. A different hero every night. This team is truly playing as a team. No matter who has been inserted in the lineup, they are finding success.
It’s a combination of things that are working out just right. The young players want to stay and are getting a chance to prove they belong. The veterans are chipping in at important times. And old reliable (the defense and goaltending) is limiting the opposition. We are talking shutouts of the Capitals and Bruins in this streak. Who does that these days?
It proves that you can win in this league and enjoy success if you have a strong back end. That is the cornerstone of these Blue Jackets. They are very much in the conversation to make the playoffs. They just need to show they can get enough scoring. But with different heroes seemingly rising up every game, that hasn’t been an issue.
That’s what makes this team exciting. Anyone can rise up at any given time as evidenced by 11 different game-winning goal scorers in their last 13 wins.
Now can they find a way to keep this up and make the playoffs? This streak got them into the race. Now they have to keep battling until the end.
Many heroes have helped the Blue Jackets cause. It shows that if you play as a team on one accord, you can do amazing things. This streak is nothing short of amazing and a testament to the team that plays hockey in Columbus.
I’m a fully credentialed writer that covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Cleveland Monsters and the OHL. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.