It isn’t about how you start that’s important, but how you finish.
That cliché, over-used quote could not be a more telling description of this season’s Columbus Blue Jackets. The club finished off the season with a 15-1-1 mark, finishing with a mark of 42-35-5 (89 pts), more wins than every other non-playoff team.
Followers of the team were left to wonder all season what this team would look like when relatively healthy and the final stretch of the season provided that opportunity, to a certain extent. Regulars like Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray found their ways to the ice after lengthy absences. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky returned to normal starter duties in the beginning of March after recovering from a groin injury suffered before the All-Star break.
Despite expectations for the team based off of last season, such frequent changes to the roster, whether it be via trade or injury-related call-ups, made it difficult to discern whether we were witnessing the Blue Jackets of 2013-14 or the injury-ridden club we came to know. The final month and a half of the season gave us the chance to learn a thing or two about the team.
You have to appreciate how the #CBJ finished this season. The resiliency of this team is amazing, next year is going to something special!
— The CBJ Artillery (@TheCBJArtillery) April 12, 2015
There is no quit in the team
Columbus was officially eliminated from playoff contention on March 31. The team’s playoff aspirations began to fade towards the end of January and into February. The big prize was out of reach, but Columbus didn’t seem to mind.
This goes back to the trade deadline where the Blue Jackets made few team-shattering deals. General manager Jarmo Kekӓlӓinen reverberated Columbus’s desire to keep all of the team’s primary pieces. Management believed a good core of players was in place and when healthy, Columbus had playoff potential.
By saving its best, and healthiest, hockey for last, management had the opportunity to peer into the future, so to speak. If those final 17 games are any indication, management just might be right about this roster.
Columbus can play with the big dogs
Nine of those final 15 wins came against playoff-bound teams with the one overtime loss coming against Presidents’ Trophy winner New York. Five of those wins came by two goals or more. The most impressive win came on March 19 when Columbus smothered Vancouver, topping the Canucks 6-2 despite beating Edmonton the night before.
The trend only occurred as of late, however, because on the season, Columbus finished with winning records against only six playoff clubs.
The offense is capable of carrying the team
Only once did the Blue Jackets not score at least three goals during their final 17 games. On 12 occasions, the team tallied at least four goals, resulting in an average of 4.11 goals per game. That average is a far cry from the team’s season average of 2.77 goals/game, good for 13th in the league.
Ryan Johansen, Scott Hartnell, Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno accounted for almost half (107/227) of the team’s goals this season. Columbus had only seven players reach double-digit point totals, partially because Columbus’s opportunities on the offensive end were limited. The Blue Jackets were shorthanded on 303 occasions and only fired off 28.9 shots per game.
Should Columbus manage to spend more time on the offensive end of the rink, it has the firepower to reach the top of the league in many offensive categories.