So far, so good. The Columbus Blue Jackets have gone through three preseason games, and have walked out as winners in every contest. Yes, I know, the preseason doesn’t count, but the fact that the Blue Jackets are a cohesive force — that have shown preseason success — is the focal point. If the Blue Jackets can keep this up (with or without Ryan Johansen), expect another postseason run, and a more rabid fan base inside Nationwide Arena.
Even though only a few preseason games have been played, let’s take a look at why the Blue Jackets are doin’ work — and why they have permanently left the cellar of the hockey standings.
In Bob We Trust
Here is my groundbreaking analysis of the day: goaltending is critical in hockey. If you have a goalie who can stand on his head and/or is a brick wall, then you will do well in the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings have Quick, the Bruins’ have Rask, and the Blue Jackets have (the stylish) Sergei Bobrovsky.
— ESPN NHL coverage (@ESPN_NHL) September 9, 2014
Bobrovsky is the key to the Blue Jackets running the table in the Eastern Conference. If he materializes into a brick wall every night (or even half the nights), the Blue Jackets become dangerous in 2014-2015.
A couple of nights ago against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Bobrovsky stopped 30 shots (!) and surrendered zero goals — earning first star honors. A perfect night in front of the net is the goal. Bobrovsky has the capability to do it. However, to win games, the offense has to score. Which leads to my next point…
Wingmen: Setting Up the Offense for Goals
Having Scott Hartnell in Columbus is huge. By utilizing the wing position, Hartnell will have (and create) scoring chances. He was successful with the Philadelphia Flyers, and the numbers point to an even more successful time with the Blue Jackets. The perfect accompaniment to Hartnell is Nathan Horton on the right wing. A-list talent on the wings will enable the Blue Jackets to stretch defenses, and work the puck around.
Even though it appears that the Blue Jackets will not have Johansen in the near-term, there is enough offensive power to compensate. Against the Penguins a couple of nights ago, Hartnell and Cam Atkinson helped out on the assisting end for the opening goal. Passing the puck efficiency is how the Blue Jackets can systematically pick apart defenses — having multiple people in the assist column on a goal proves that passing is key to scoring effectively.
Even though it appears the Blue Jackets will lose their 63-point scorer from a year ago, Ryan Johansen, the panic button shouldn’t be pressed. There are enough weapons (i.e. Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky) to compensate.
Upper Management Success = Team Success
Since Jarmo Kekalainen arrived as GM for the Blue Jackets, the house has been cleaned. Kekalainen has wheeled people into Columbus (Horton and Hartnell), and has dealt people with one-way tickets out of Columbus. Also, Kekalainen doesn’t put up with the shenanigans in negotiations; he’s willing to let Johansen go, and not give into the pressure of forking over bookoo dollars for Johansen’s services. Kekalainen knows what he’s doing — I believe he is a wizard when it comes to eying talent.
Upper Management for the Blue Jackets is just like the team: cohesive. Expectations are set, and there is belief that the expectations can be reached. Last season, the expectation was the playoffs; this year, it only makes sense if the expectations are raised — as the talent is there.
Playing devils advocate: let’s say the wheels fall off the wagon for the Blue Jackets during the season; what do they do? Well, Kekalainen will isolate problem, and with the help from the coaching staff, will make the proper solution to the problem. So far, bringing in big names has been the watermark of Kekalainen. Now that the talent has been assembled, there could be a more prevalent focus for the future — working the farm system for the Blue Jackets; bringing in young guys to learn from the veterans. Kekalainen has all the gears in place for the monstrous machine that is the Blue Jackets. Now, it’s time to show it off when the season starts.
Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain: if the Blue Jackets follow this set of guidelines, they will go places in the Eastern Conference. Who knows, maybe the Blue Jackets will make a run for the Stanley Cup this season.