Tag Archives: Matt Duchene

DTFR Podcast #134- Slinging First Round Picks

The Board of Governors meeting gets underway next week involving the Seattle expansion vote, Bill Peters took a puck to the jaw and Rick Middleton and Vic Hadfield are having their numbers retired this week.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes made another trade with each other, Karl Alzner is being Wade Redden’ed, Ron Hextall got ousted as the Philadelphia Flyers GM, the Buffalo Sabres win streak reached double digits and the Winnipeg Jets brought back their Heritage Jerseys.

Nick and Connor also encourage all of Long Island to go to the New York Islanders game at NYCB Live (it’s the Nassau Coliseum) this week and quickly plan a hopeful trip to see Sporting KC play in Atlanta.

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DTFR Podcast #133- Stuffed

The Original Trio reunites to talk recent trades, recent coaching changes, the Buffalo Sabres current winning streak, a haphazard review of the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers, as well as a look at the division standings as of American Thanksgiving.

Craig Berube is now in charge behind the bench of the St. Louis Blues and Ken Hitchcock is back from retirement to coach the Oilers after Mike Yeo and Todd McLellan were both fired respectively from their clubs.

Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a star in Buffalo as the team rises in the standings– can the Sabres keep this up? Will Dahlin get some votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year and does Phil Housley deserve credit for the team’s turnaround?

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DTFR Podcast #131- Hockey Plague

Pekka Rinne signed a two-year extension, John Stevens and Joel Quenneville were fired, Willie Desjardin’s back and there’s a new guy in Chicago (Jeremy Colliton), Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is in the news again, people in Ottawa are fired up about Uber, Lou Lamoriello reached 2,400 games as a GM as the New York Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division and is Halloween the new Thanksgiving? Nick and Connor discuss.

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DTFR Podcast #130- Boo: A Very Merry Boone Jenner Halloween (Part II: Pierre-Luc DuBOOis)

Injuries are scaring the masses across the league, while old ghosts haunt Colorado (then lose), the Los Angeles Kings’ reign of terror is spooked, Mark Borowiecki is back again, Nick and Connor do their best to talk about the Columbus Blue Jackets and the thing that goes bump in the night? That’s the Tampa Bay Lightning thundering their way to the top. We also reviewed Bohemian Rhapsody before it comes out.

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Game of the week: October 22-28

Week 3 of the DtFR Game of the Week series is due today, so let’s take a look at our options!

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 22-28
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 22
7 p.m. Colorado Philadelphia 4-1
7:30 p.m. Carolina Detroit 3-1
8 p.m. St. Louis Winnipeg 4-5 (OT)
10 p.m. Washington Vancouver 5-2
Tuesday, October 23
7 p.m. Florida Panthers New York Rangers 2-5
7 p.m. Arizona Columbus 4-1
7:30 p.m. Calgary Montréal 2-3
7:30 p.m. Boston Ottawa 4-1
8 p.m. San Jose Nashville 5-4
8:30 p.m. Anaheim Chicago 1-3
8:30 p.m. Los Angeles Dallas 2-4
9 p.m. Pittsburgh Edmonton 6-5 (OT)
Wednesday, October 24
7 p.m. Toronto Maple Leafs Winnipeg Jets NBCSN, SN1, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Florida Panthers New York Islanders
9:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Colorado NBCSN
10 p.m. Vancouver Vegas SN360
Thursday, October 25
7 p.m. Philadelphia Boston SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Montréal Buffalo RDS, TSN2
7 p.m. Nashville New Jersey
8 p.m. Columbus St. Louis
8 p.m. Los Angeles Minnesota
8:30 p.m. New York Rangers Chicago Blackhawks
8:30 p.m. Anaheim Dallas
9 p.m. Pittsburgh Calgary
9 p.m. Washington Edmonton SN1
10 p.m. Vancouver Arizona
Friday, October 26
6 p.m. Tampa Bay Vegas TVAS
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Detroit NHLN
7:30 p.m. San Jose Carolina
9 p.m. Ottawa Colorado RDS2
saturday, October 27
noon Florida New Jersey
1 p.m. New York Islanders Philadelphia Flyers SN
3 p.m. Edmonton Nashville
4 p.m. Washington Calgary SN1
7 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Boston Bruins CITY, NHLN, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Winnipeg Toronto CBC, SN360
7 p.m. Buffalo Columbus
8 p.m. Chicago St. Louis
8 p.m. Colorado Minnesota
9 p.m. Tampa Bay Arizona
10 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, SN1, SN360
SunDay, October 28
3:30 p.m. New York Rangers Los Angeles Kings
5 p.m. Dallas Detroit
5 p.m. New York Islanders Carolina Hurricanes
6 p.m. Edmonton Chicago NHLN, SN360
8 p.m. Ottawa Vegas SN1, TVAS
8 p.m. San Jose Anaheim

As usual, there’s more than a few compelling matchups this week. Just like every week, there’s the rivalries (Philadelphia at Boston, New York at Chicago, Montréal at Boston, Chicago at St. Louis and San Jose at Anaheim) and the player returns (F Matt Duchene‘s first trip back to Denver steals most of the headlines in this department, even though F Valtteri Filppula and G Louis Domingue are headed back to Philly and Arizona, respectively, on Saturday), but this week is different in a way that we could have only dreamed of during the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

 

Patrik Laine hosting C Auston Matthews was already must-see T.V. based on their individual talents alone, but now that both of their clubs are looking to the top of the league standings, this just might qualify as a Stanley Cup preview.

Toronto has exploded out to a 6-3-0 record in its first nine games and was pacing the Eastern Conference until Montréal’s victory over the Flames last night (the top three teams in the Atlantic are tied with 12 points, but the Habs own the games-played tiebreaker over Toronto while the Leafs best Boston in regulation+overtime wins).

The main reason for this early season dominance? You guessed it: Toronto’s dominant offense. The Maple Leafs are averaging 3.78 goals per game so far this season, which trails only Washington and Tampa Bay for tops in the league, in addition to boasting the second-best power play with a 37.5 percent conversion rate.

Even though the big story during free agency in July was Toronto signing C John Tavares (who himself has posted imposing 6-5-11 totals so far this season), this team still belongs to the No. 1 overall pick in 2016: Matthews. Playing on the second line, Matthews has potted a whopping 10 goals already this season, not to mention his six assists.

Fans of the podcast know I predicted Matthews to win the Rocket Richard Trophy this season, due in large part to the opposition Matthews is going to be playing against as a member of the Leafs’ second line instead of on its top unit. Especially at the center position, it is usually a given team’s best offering getting the start on the first line, and that No. 1 center is usually one of the better players on the team and can exhibit a solid two-way game (after all, the Leafs are in the Atlantic Division with Boston’s C Patrice Bergeron… are any more examples necessary?).

Matthews has already proven through the first two seasons of his career that he’s capable of making any other player in the league look silly (yes, even Bergeron!) with his scoring touch, but now that he’s going up against opposing second lines and second defensive pairs, it’s bound to be open season on opposing goaltenders all year.

D Morgan Rielly (4-10-14 totals) and F Mitch Marner (4-8-12) also join Matthews and Tavares in scoring better than a point-per-game, so consider that your warning G Connor Hellebuyck.

As for 6-2-1 Winnipeg – the third-best team in the Central Division and Western Conference as things stand right now –  the 2016 NHL Entry Draft has treated it just as well as Toronto in regards to Laine. Though the Finn has managed only 3-2-5 totals so far this season, his 83-56-139 totals through 164 career games is nothing to scoff at.

Laine’s offensive struggles thus far are not limited to just him, as the entire Jets roster (save C Mark Scheifele‘s 4-5-9 totals making him the only player averaging a point-per-game) has had trouble finding the back of the net. Averaging only 3.22 goals per game, Winnipeg’s offense is tied with Carolina for only 15th best in the NHL.

So, if offense isn’t winning games for the Jets, it must be their goaltending or defense, right?

Well, it’s definitely not the defense. Allowing an an uninspiring 34.22 shots against per game (eighth-worst in the NHL) is certainly not getting it done and is putting a lot of work on Hellebuyck’s shoulders.

But hey, Hellebuyck finished second in Vezina voting last year, so he must be more than up to the challenge of keeping these Jets in the air, right?

Once again, not so much. Even with a 4-2-1 record in his first seven starts, he only boasts a .909 save percentage and 2.83 GAA (t17th and 21st, respectively, among the 35 goaltenders with at least four starts). Instead, the most inspiring goaltender in Manitoba has been backup 2-0-0 G Laurent Brossoit and his .955 save percentage and 2.01 GAA.

So, how exactly are the Jets in third place in the ultra-competitive Central Division?

The answer can be found in both of Winnipeg’s special teams, with the power play doing some serious heavy lifting with a 32 percent conversion rate that is fourth-best in the NHL.

While Laine has struggled to find the back of the net at even-strength, he has absolutely dominated the power play. Of his 3-2-5 totals so far this season, he’s earned 3-1-4 of those marks while playing with the extra man. In fact, much of the top power play unit has been solid, as Scheifele and RW Blake Wheeler have both registered four power play points in nine games played.

But the Jets’ special teams dominance doesn’t end with the power play. Winnipeg’s penalty kill has also been excellent, as its 82.3 percent kill rate is tied with Minnesota for ninth-best in the league. W Brandon Tanev in particular has been very solid while one of his teammates has been in the penalty box (his four shorthanded hits and three shorthanded blocks both pace the club), and his dominant play has made life much easier on Hellebuyck.

Though an .895 save percentage against the man-advantage doesn’t exactly sound impressive, Hellebuyck ranks (t)eighth-best in the statistic among the 35 goalies with at least four starts.

Talk about flipping a switch.

The next step, of course, is finding success on both ends of the ice at even strength. It is often these big games that brings that best play out of a team with as much potential as the Jets, so I’ll be very interested to see if Winnipeg can rise to the occasion against the Leafs.

So, it’s time for the big question: who’s winning this game?

First and foremost, it should probably be mentioned that Winnipeg boasted the best home-ice advantage in the entire NHL last season with a 32-7-2 record. Knowing that such a highly touted opponent is coming to town, there’s no way Bell MTS Place won’t be rocking tonight.

However, I have my concerns about Hellebuyck being able to stop Matthews and Toronto’s attack, especially since the Leafs join Winnipeg in dominating special team-play (Toronto’s power play and penalty kill rank second and seventh in the league, respectively). As such, I see the Maple Leafs cruising to a 5-3 victory in Manitoba.

Pastrnak’s 4th career 4-point night lifts B’s, 4-1, over Sens

For the fourth time in his young career, David Pastrnak (2-2–4 totals) had a four-point night to snap a three-game losing streak and help the Boston Bruins beat the Ottawa Senators, 4-1, at Canadian Tire Centre Tuesday night.

David Krejci (1-1–2) and Patrice Bergeron (1-2–3) each had a goal in the Bruins victory, while Tuukka Rask (3-2-0, 3.38 goals against average, .901 save percentage) made 38 saves on 39 shots against for a .974 SV% en route to picking up his third win of the season.

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Rask bounced back with an impressive showing since his last game (Oct. 17th’s 5-2 loss, 24 saves, in Calgary against the Flames) as Boston’s first line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak combined for eight points in Tuesday’s win.

Ottawa netminder, Craig Anderson (4-2-1, 3.14 GAA, .915 SV%), stopped 28 out of 32 shots faced for an .875 SV% in the loss.

The Senators are now 0-2-0 against their division rival– the Bruins– this season after Tuesday’s loss and Oct. 8th’s 6-3 loss at TD Garden. Boston swept Ottawa last season in the season series, while the Sens swept the B’s in 2016-17.

Coincidentally, Rask was 3-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA against Ottawa last season.

Boston was 18-8-2 against Atlantic Division teams last season. They are 4-0-0 against division opponents thus far in 2018-19 (4-0 at Buffalo on Oct. 4th, 6-3 vs. Ottawa on Oct. 8th, 8-2 vs. Detroit on Oct. 13th and Tuesday’s 4-1 win in Ottawa).

Bruce Cassidy adjusted his lines without David Backes in the lineup for the second straight game, leaving what worked against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 20th together on the third line with Anders Bjork sliding in on the left side of Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner playing right wing.

Ryan Donato, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari were again the left wing-center-right wing combo for the fourth line.

Zdeno Chara was paired with Brandon Carlo, while Matt Grzelcyk played with John Moore and Urho Vaakanainen started the game alongside Steven Kampfer.

In the opening minutes of the first period, Senators defender, Mark Borowiecki looked over his shoulder at an approaching Vaakanainen and promptly delivered an elbow to the 19-year-old blue liner’s face after a whistle.

No penalty was called on the play and Vaakanainen would not return for the second period. In fact, the rookie defender in just his 2nd career National Hockey League game was diagnosed with a concussion by the Bruins medical staff and shutdown for the rest of the night.

Cassidy juggled his remaining defenders for the rest of the night, with Carlo seeing some impressive play in his own end, including blocking shots and bailing out his team from errant pucks in the crease approaching the goal line.

Of note, injured defender Torey Krug started skating the other day and may return to the lineup next week. Kevan Miller and Charlie McAvoy remain out, however, in addition to the now uncertain timetable for Vaakanainen.

Chara was penalized for hooking Ottawa’s Matt Duchene at 3:59 of the first period, but Ottawa wasn’t able to convert on the ensuing power play. This, despite Bobby Ryan firing a shot through Rask that nearly crossed the goal line before Carlo squibbed it free from the blue paint.

Fresh off the bench in the midst of a line change, Danton Heinen sent the puck up to Pastrnak (9) who managed to break into the attacking zone and snipe a shot past Anderson to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 11:17 of the first period.

Heinen (2) and Krejci (6) were tabbed with the assists on Pastrnak’s goal.

After one period, Boston held onto a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard and a 15-10 advantage in shots on goal. The B’s also led in takeaways (2-0), hits (10-7) and face-off win percentage (57-43), while Ottawa had an advantage in blocked shots (7-6) and giveaways (5-1). The Sens were 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission, while the Bruins had yet to see time on the skater advantage.

Noel Acciari was guilty of tripping Senators defender, Thomas Chabot, at 5:30 of the second period, but Ottawa wasn’t able to convert on their second skater advantage of the night.

Late in the period Brad Marchand and Zack Smith exchanged fisticuffs after Smith hit Grzelcyk hard in the corner. The hit was clean, but given the heightened tempers, Marchand wasn’t taking any chances with seeing another defender, let alone teammate, get roughed up without some kind of response (right or wrong).

A minute later on yet another questionable call by the refs, Chara was handed a cross checking minor for Mark Stone having grabbed Chara’s stick at 16:19.

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In a test of Boston’s will to bounce back from murky calls, the Senators struck on the power play on a one-timer from the point thanks to Chabot (3) firing a shot past the screened Bruins netminder on the blocker side.

Ryan (4) and Stone (3) had the assists on Chabot’s power play goal at 17:51.

Nevertheless, Ottawa’s first minor penalty of the night came less than a moment later when Alex Formenton was guilty of a two-minute violation for holding the stick as Carlo drew a power play for the Bruins.

Almost 30 seconds later, the Senators bench bungled a line change and was guilty of too many men on the ice at 19:05, yielding a 5-on-3 power play opportunity for Boston for just over 80 seconds of a two-skater advantage.

That 5-on-3 power play would’ve carried into the third period, if it weren’t for Krejci (2) pocketing a one-timer from Pastrnak past Anderson while the Senators goalie dove in desperation across the crease four seconds into the two-skater advantage.

Krejci’s goal at 19:09 of the second period gave Boston the lead, 2-1, and was assisted by Pastrnak (4) and Bergeron (8) after Anderson bought Pastrnak’s head fake and left a gapping hole in the net for No. 46 in black-and-gold to complete the one-timer.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins held onto a 2-1 lead, but were being outshot, 24-22. Ottawa managed to outshoot Boston, 2:1, in the second period with a 14-7 advantage in the middle frame alone.

Boston led in blocked shots (15-11), takeaways (3-1), hits (20-12) and face-off win% (57-43) entering the second intermission. Ottawa had an advantage in giveaways (7-1) and was 1/3 on the power play while the B’s were 1/2 after two.

Just 21 seconds into the third period, while still on the 5-on-4 advantage, Bergeron (7) buried a redirection past Anderson on a purposeful shot from Pastrnak to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead in the third period.

Pastrnak (5) and Grzelcyk (5) notched the assists on Bergeron’s insurance goal.

Moments later, Pastrnak received a transition pass and sent the puck further along to Marchand for a 2-on-1 opportunity. Marchand dangled, snuck the puck through his own legs and completely undressed Ottawa’s defense before sending a pass back to Pastrnak (10) for an elevated one-timer shot through the roof of the twine behind Anderson.

His second goal of the night, Pastrnak, gave Boston a 4-1 lead, while Marchand (11) and Bergeron (9) picked up their first and second assists, respectively in the game at 5:31.

Seconds later, Chara was called for tripping Ryan at 5:47 and the Bruins were forced to kill off another penalty. They did so successfully, until Marchand was guilty of slashing Duchene one second after Chara was freed from the box– then they had yet another minor infraction to kill off (they did).

At the final horn, the Bruins had won 4-1, despite trailing in shots on goal, 39-32 (and 15-10 in the third period) to Ottawa. Boston finished Tuesday with an advantage in blocked shots (22-15), hits (24-21) and face-off win% (55-45), while the Senators held onto an advantage in giveaways (10-3).

The B’s went 2/2 on the skater advantage, while the Sens finished 1/5 on the power play.

Pastrnak carried the weight of the first line’s eight-point production with four points (two goals, two assists) of his own, while Bergeron (one goal, two assists) and Marchand (one assist) completed the effort.

The Bruins finished their four-game road trip with a 1-1-2 record earning four out of a possible eight points, while improving their overall record to 5-2-2 (12 points) on the season. Boston is currently tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs in points for 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, however the Maple Leafs hold the tiebreaker by virtue of having one more regulation-plus-overtime win (Toronto has six, Boston has five, so far).

Ottawa fell to 4-3-1 (9 points) as a result of Tuesday’s loss, good enough for 6th in the division.

Boston heads home for a Thursday night matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden before hosting the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

Next Tuesday (Oct. 30th), the B’s begin a quick, two-game, road trip at PNC Arena against the Carolina Hurricanes, before swinging through Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 3rd for a visit against the Nashville Predators.

Among other stats from Tuesday night’s win in Ottawa…

David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara led Boston in plus/minus as each were a plus-two, while Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk led their team in shots on goal with five apiece.

Brandon Carlo led the Bruins in the hits department with four, while Chris Wagner, Noel Acciari and Chara each recorded three.

In addition to his plus/minus and hitting efforts, Chara led Boston in blocked shots with five. The next closest among his teammates was three (Joakim Nordstrom, John Moore and Matt Grzelcyk).

Matt Duchene and Dylan DeMelo were each a minus-two for the Senators in the loss, while Mark Stone led Ottawa in shots on goal with six. Mark Borowiecki and Ryan Dzingel each recorded four hits for Ottawa, while Christian Jaros and Chris Wideman each had four blocked shots.

Oh, and one more thing… David Pastrnak is the sixth different player in Bruins franchise history to record at least 10 goals in the team’s first nine (or fewer) games of a season.

The most goals in the month of October by any Boston player?

14 — Phil Esposito (1973-74)

12 — Charlie Simmer (1985-86)

10 — David Pastrnak (2018-19)

10 — Dimitri Kvartalnov (1992-93)

10 — Phil Esposito (1974-75)

DTFR Podcast #128- Celebration Hardcore Brother (a.k.a. Celly Hard Bro)

Nick and Connor rant about retired numbers, anniversary patches, showing emotion in hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and William Nylander, coaches that might get fired, “the code” and Mike Matheson’s antics.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #127- Tip Of The Hat(s)

John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #126- Participation Trophies After One Game (Part III)

The 2018-19 regular season has started, so let’s overreact and hand out the regular season awards already! It’s our 3rd Annual Participation Trophies After One Game presented by Nick and Connor.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Dr.Strangepuck or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the 2018-19 Columbus Blue Jackets

The 2018-19 Columbus Blue Jackets are a riddle.  Wrapped in an enigma.  On paper, this is the best team the organization has ever put on the ice.  Its top line features two wings capable of putting in over 30 goals and perhaps the first true top-line center the Blue Jackets have ever had in their history.  On defense they feature a top defensive pairing that, arguably, has two Norris Trophy candidates (albeit one will start the season on the IR).  In goal, they have a two-time Vezina winning goaltender.  Is there another team in the league that can say this? No.

Yet, if you have read the season previews of the experts, you would come away thinking that this Jackets team was appreciably worse than the one that made the playoffs the last two seasons.  The Jackets continue to be the Rodney Dangerfield of hockey, grabbing at their red tie, searching for some respect.  Certainly, their playoff performances have not helped.  All-world goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, has yet to put in a performance equal to his Vezina-winning status in the playoffs.  The Jackets offense went missing after going up 2-0 on the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Washington Capitals.

So, it isn’t surprising that few of the experts were willing to go out on the limb and predict great things for the Blue Jackets in the 2018-19 season.  Further complicating matters are the contract situations of the aforementioned Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin.  The situations, particularly Panarin’s, received more off-season attention from the hockey media than the additions of Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair to a forward group that was already quite deep.  There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth over the Jackets not moving Panarin in the off-season.  However, any trade of Panarin will be a trade the Jackets lose in the short term.  Therein lies the problem.

If you are Jarmo Kekalainen and you look at this team and you know it is better than last year’s and you know that last year’s team had the misfortune to play the team that won it all in the first round, do you make a knee jerk move that makes the team appreciably worse in the short term?  What if you think the team, as built, is capable of winning a Cup this year?

We know the answer, as we prepare for Panarin to take the ice on opening night for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The Jackets stuck to their guns, didn’t accept offers for Panarin that they viewed as too low to allow them to compete for a Cup in favor of staying the course and making a run for a title.  Most of the experts expect Panarin to be dealt at the deadline, but many of the same people assumed he’d be moved draft weekend.  There is always the possibility that Panarin is moved at the deadline, but this only happens if the Jackets are out of playoff contention, which seems unlikely given what we know about the team.  Bobrovsky is even less likely to be moved given the limited value of goalies, even great ones, in trade.  So, enjoy watching them play what may be their final seasons with the Blue Jackets.

The assumption seems to be that somehow the Panarin and Bobrovsky situations will be such a distraction that Columbus won’t be able to overcome this and will miss the playoffs after a trade deadline fire sale.  This seems to ignore the fact that both Panarin and Bobrovsky will want to have great seasons to justify long-term contracts netting them $10 million per year or more.  This is especially true for Bobrovsky who just turned 30.  A bad season for Bobrovsky could damage his market value, regardless of the Vezinas on his resume as teams might question “is he starting to slow down.” Likewise, it would be in Bobrovsky’s best interest to play well in the playoffs for once.

Another factor lost in the supposed turmoil is the Jackets depth.  The top line is a bona-fide top line when a year ago it was a serious question mark.  Meanwhile, the depth the team lacked in 2017-18 has returned through a combination of underrated off-season moves and development of players in the Jackets’ organization.  Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had a solid first, full NHL season last year is poised to put up better numbers this season and has landed on the second line where he should receive more ice time and be freed up to play a more offense-first role.  Sonny Milano will start the season on the fourth line…but it is a fourth line featuring free agent additions Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair, which could quickly see its ice time increased if the third line struggles to find the net.  Every line has two wings capable of putting in 20 plus goals.  Every line has a bona fide NHL center, which has not always been the case for the Blue Jackets.  The biggest question will be whether coach John Tortorella, fresh off a contract extension, will learn from ice time mistakes he made in the playoffs and truly adopt his own “safe is death” motto to allow players like Milano to learn from their mistakes without being stapled to the bench.

The next question is whether Alex Wennberg will actually earn the second line center position he has been gifted the last two seasons.  There is no denying that he regressed last season–look at his game score numbers, look at his power play performance, which was a large part of the team’s struggles on power play.  His pre-season performance was lackluster, at best.  He’s already been demoted to the second power play unit.  The Jackets making a run for the Cup will hinge, to some extent, on Wennberg performing to the level of play some would like to attribute to him or the Jackets finding a replacement at the deadline (hey there, Matt Duchene).

There is some question about the performance of what I will term the “Underperformer Line” featuring Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and Josh Anderson.  It is probably unfair to Anderson to lump him in as an underperformer last season as he had to deal with injuries and bounced up and down the lineup without consistent line mates.  Jenner and Dubinsky, on the other hand, struggled mightily.  Particularly Dubinsky, who had to deal with scurilous rumors from the team’s road trip to Vegas.  All accounts are that Jenner and Dubinsky were leaner at camp, but neither left an indelable impression in the pre-season games in which they appeared.  If they struggle, it is probably less of an issue as the “fourth line” can easily replace them, but it would be best for the careers of all three players if they bounced back, if not to prior form, to something better than a typical third line.

With all of the above taken into account, despite the angst of the experts, the Jackets will likely make the playoffs.  I also think that Bobrovsky will play the best we’ve ever seen in the playoffs to get them out of the first round–his next contract may depend on it.  From there, it is up to Tortorella, Wennberg, Jenner and Dubinsky, in particular, to address the issues that held the team back last season or for the coaching staff and management to overcome those issues prior to the trade deadline.

There are plenty of reasons for anxiety if you are a Blue Jackets fan.  But, like Slim Pickens at the end of Dr. Strangelove, you’re already riding the bomb down, might as well enjoy the ride.