Tag Archives: Zach Werenski

Pastrnak, Bruins pull off, 4-3, win in Game 5, can advance in Columbus

Not to beat a dead horse, but the Boston Bruins’ first line got the job done again in Game 5, as the B’s topped the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-3, at TD Garden on Saturday night.

After blowing a two-goal lead in the final ten minutes of the game, Boston overcame incredible shifts in momentum to give themselves the series lead, 3-2, heading back to Nationwide Arena for Game 6 on Monday.

Tuukka Rask (7-5 record, 2.19 goals against average, .932 save percentage in 12 games played this postseason) turned aside 33 out of 36 shots faced (.917 SV%) for the win.

Columbus goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky (6-3, 2.33 GAA, .928 SV% in nine games played this postseason) had 32 saves on 36 shots against (.889 SV%) in the loss.

John Moore (upper body) and Kevan Miller (lower body) remained out of the lineup on Saturday, while Noel Acciari (undisclosed) was a game-time decision and did not dress for action.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, replaced Acciari on the fourth line right wing with Chris Wagner and did not make any other adjustments to his lineup.

Wagner was a healthy scratch for the last two games.

Boston had a plethora of healthy scratches to go with Moore, Miller and Acciari in the press box for Game 5, including Lee Stempniak, Zachary Senyshyn, Jordan Szwarz, Peter Cehlarik, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, Ryan Fitzgerald, Steven Kampfer, Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman.

Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella dressed seven defenders– including Vladislav Gavrikov, who made his NHL debut as a result– and scratched Alexandre Texier for Game 5.

Almost midway through the opening frame, Cam Atkinson slashed Marcus Johansson at 9:03 of the first period and the Bruins went on the power play for the first time of the night.

The B’s failed to convert on the skater advantage opportunity.

After killing off Atkinson’s minor infraction, Columbus found themselves rewarded with a power play of their own seconds later when Charlie McAvoy slashed Boone Jenner at 11:35 of the first period.

The Blue Jackets did not capitalize on their first power play of the game and shortly followed things up with another penalty of their own– this time a bench minor for too many men on the ice.

Gavrikov was sent to the box to serve the infraction at 13:43 and the Bruins went back on the skater advantage.

Entering the first intermission, the game remained tied, 0-0, with the Bruins leading in shots on goal, 9-8.

Boston also held the advantage in hits, 14-13, while Columbus led in just about every other category, including blocked shots (6-2), takeaways (6-1), giveaways (5-4) and face-off win percentage (62-39).

Heading into the second period, the Blue Jackets were 0/1 and the Bruins were 0/2 on the power play.

Early in the middle frame, the pace of play quickened as both teams jumped out of the gate– yielding end-to-end action.

While on a rush up the ice, David Backes dropped a pass back to Jake DeBrusk, who then sent the puck cross-ice to David Krejci as the veteran center for Boston trailed the play.

Krejci (3) settled the puck and trickled an off-speed shot through Bobrovksy’s five-hole to give the Bruins the lead, 1-0, at 1:39 of the second period.

DeBrusk (2) and Backes (3) notched the assists on the goal.

As the midpoint of the night approached, Torey Krug held Nick Foligno inside the B’s crease and was charged with a holding minor at 9:52 of the second period.

Columbus did not convert on their ensuing power play.

Through 40 minutes of play, Boston led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, despite trailing, 23-21, in shots on goal.

The Blue Jackets maintained their dominance in every statistical category, leading in blocked shots (9-7), takeaways (11-2), giveaways (8-4), hits (31-23) and face-off win% (52-48) after two periods.

Both clubs were 0/2 on the power play heading into the third period.

Boston started things off with strong possession in the final frame of regulation and worked their way to scoring chance after scoring chance on Bobrovsky.

It wasn’t long before Brad Marchand (5) got his own rebound from close range– after the Columbus goaltender made the initial glove save– and fired the puck into the twine to give the B’s a two-goal lead.

Connor Clifton (1) and Patrice Bergeron (3) were credited with the assists on Marchand’s goal at 4:51 of the third period as the Bruins extended their lead to, 2-0.

With the primary assist on the goal, Clifton earned his first career Stanley Cup Playoff point in his seventh career postseason game.

Midway through the third period, Seth Jones (3) squeaked a puck between Rask’s pad and inside the post to cut the Bruins’ lead in half, 2-1, at 10:33.

The goal was originally reviewed and confirmed as a good goal more than a few minutes after the play itself occurred.

Zach Werenski (5) and Atkinson (6) had the assists on the goal after the official timeout helped wake up tired legs on both squads.

David Pastrnak (5) broke the other way after a Columbus scoring chance was denied and sent a shot past Bobrovsky’s blocker side to give Boston the lead, 3-1, at 11:16 of the third period.

Marchand (7) had the only assist on Pastrnak’s goal.

Not even a quick response was enough to stop the freight train of goals scored by both clubs in the final ten minutes of regulation, as after the B’s answered back in a hurray, the Blue Jackets replied.

Matt Duchene setup Ryan Dzingel (1) for a one-timer that Dzingel elevated through the roof of the twine to bring Columbus back to within one-goal at 12:07.

Duchene (5) and David Savard (2) had the primary and secondary assists respectively.

Just over a minute later, Dean Kukan (1) scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal as the Blue Jackets defender blasted a shot from the slot over Rask’s glove without a body in the shooting lane to tie the game, 3-3, at 13:58.

Both Artemi Panarin (6) and Josh Anderson (2) had an assist on Kukan’s goal.

Late in the period, Marchand worked up ice with Pastrnak and threw a pass across the slot for Pastrnak (6) to redirect behind Bobrovsky to put Boston ahead, 4-3, at 18:32.

Marchand (8) and Brandon Carlo (1) had the assists on what would become Pastrnak’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff game-winning goal.

Tortorella had no choice but to pull Bobrovsky for an extra attacker with 1:21 remaining in regulation and the Blue Jackets threw the kitchen sink at the Bruins.

Duchene redirected a shot off the post behind Rask and Columbus nearly scored when Atkinson hacked away at a loose puck while Rask was desperate to get back across the crease less than a minute later.

Finally, after McAvoy extended his leg to block a shot with his foot in the closing seconds of the game, the Bruins came away with the victory, 4-3, on home ice.

Boston finished the night tied in shots on goal with Columbus, 36-36, and trailed in every other stat, including blocked shots (18-15), giveaways (11-4), hits (42-32) and face-off win% (54-46).

Both teams finished the night 0/2 on the power play, while the Bruins improved to 7-0 this postseason when leading after two periods.

The B’s take a 3-2 series lead to Columbus with the chance to punch their ticket to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final and host the Carolina Hurricanes in the next round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win on Monday.

Puck drop is set for a little after 7 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN for the action. Fans in Canada will have the choice between CBC, SN and TVAS for their viewing pleasure.

Jenner’s hat trick downs Bruins, 7-4, in Columbus

The Columbus Blue Jackets dealt the Boston Bruins their first back-to-back losses since late December with a, 7-4, victory at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday.

Boone Jenner had a hat trick for Columbus as Boston lost in back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 23rd (at Carolina) and Dec. 27th (versus New Jersey) after their 19-game point streak was snapped on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Sergei Bobrovsky (30-22-1 record, 2.76 goals against average, .906 save percentage in 53 games played) made 27 saves on 31 shots against for an .871 SV% in the win for the Blue Jackets.

Before being replaced in the second period, Tuukka Rask (24-9-5, 2.41 GAA, .918 SV% in 39 GP) stopped 19 out of 24 shots faced in the loss, while Jaroslav Halak (18-10-4, 2.33 GAA, .924 SV% in 35 GP) made nine saves on 10 shots against in relief of Rask for the B’s.

Boston fell to 42-19-9 (93 points) on the season, but remained in control of 2nd place in the Atlantic, while Columbus improved to 39-28-3 (81 points) and remained 5th in the Metropolitan, as well as in command of the 2nd wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Bruins fell to 27-6-5 when scoring first in a game this season and 15-12-6 on the road.

Bruce Cassidy made a few adjustments to his lineup with Kevan Miller (upper body), David Pastrnak (left thumb), Jake DeBrusk (lower body), Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) and Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) all out due to injury.

With Lee Stempniak reassigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL), Trent Frederic was recalled on emergency basis.

Charlie Coyle moved up to David Krejci’s right wing with Peter Cehlarik at left wing on the second line, while Joakim Nordstrom slid down to the third line left wing with Frederic at center and David Backes on the right side in his usual role.

Since Grzelcyk was out due to injury, Steven Kampfer suited up alongside John Moore on the third defensive pairing.

Early into the action, Brandon Carlo was penalized for interference at 3:29 of the first period and gave the Blue Jackets their first power play of the night.

Nearly 30 seconds into the ensuing power play for Columbus, the Bruins caught the Blue Jackets on a turnover and charged down the ice on a shorthanded bid.

Brad Marchand tossed the puck over to Patrice Bergeron (26) for his 4th shorthanded goal of the season and 3rd SHG this week.

Boston grabbed the, 1-0, lead at 4:00 of the first period with Marchand (55) tallying the only assist on Bergeron’s goal.

Shortly after the B’s went ahead, Josh Anderson (23) showed off his speed and caught the Bruins in a line change. Anderson deked and scored on a breakaway with ease and tied the game, 1-1.

Zach Werenski (28) and Ryan Dzingel (26) had the assists on Anderson’s goal at 7:19.

Almost seven minutes later, Dzingel (23) scored his first goal as a Blue Jacket after following up on a rebound generated by Werenski (and the following second and third chances until Dzingel banked the puck off Rask and in)– making it, 2-1, Columbus.

Werenski (29) and Seth Jones (32) were credited with the assists on Dzingel’s goal at 14:18 of the first period.

Late in the period, Columbus committed a rash of penalties with Jenner sent to the box for tripping Bergeron at 17:34 and Nick Foligno closing his hand on the puck at 18:56, resulting in 39 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play for Boston.

It did not go well for the Bruins.

Shortly after emerging from the box, Jenner (13) crashed the slot on another breakaway by Anderson and pocketed the rebound to give the Blue Jackets a two-goal lead.

Anderson (15) had the only assist on Jenner’s first goal of the night t 19:54 of the first period and Columbus led, 3-1, heading into the first intermission.

It was the 13th shorthanded goal allowed by the Bruins this season.

The Blue Jackets dominated in shots on goal (13-4), blocked shots (4-1), giveaways (3-2) and face-off win percentage (70-30) entering the second period, while Boston led in hits (9-2).

Both teams had three takeaways each, while the Blue Jackets were 0/1 on the power play. The B’s were 0/2 on the skater advantage after 20 minutes of play.

Cassidy juggled his second and third lines to start the middle frame, but things started to slide almost halfway into the period.

Matt Duchene (29) scored on a backhand pass from Dzingel while sneaking into the slot after Columbus sustained pressure in the attacking zone to make it, 4-1, Blue Jackets.

Dzingel (27) and Anderson (16) had the assists at 7:09 of the second period.

Jenner (14) added his second goal of the night– and his 100th career NHL goal– a minute later with Riley Nash (8) and Foligno (14) receiving credit for the assists.

Columbus led, 5-1, at 8:09 of the second period and Cassidy had watched his crew let down his goaltender enough. It was time for a change, so he pulled Rask in favor of Halak.

Things started to click for the B’s as Marchand (29) answered on the scoreboard at 13:07 of the middle frame.

Charlie McAvoy (18) and Backes (11) notched the assists as Boston pulled to within three goals.

A mere 14 seconds after Marchand’s goal, McAvoy and Artemi Panarin got into a scrap and exchanged fisticuffs for the 1st time this season (and 2nd time in their careers) at 13:21.

As an aside, McAvoy’s last fight (and first of his career) also came against the Blue Jackets last season (against Pierre-Luc Dubois).

McAvoy also picked up an extra minor penalty for slashing, so Cassidy sent Danton Heinen to serve the penalty while the Bruins were shorthanded.

Boston had a little more fight in them– in part because of McAvoy’s actual fight– and sustained an attack as the period ticked by.

Chris Wagner (12) broke free from the Blue Jackets blue liners and slipped the puck past Bobrovsky on a breakaway at 15:36 of the second period.

Heinen (20) had the only assist as the “Mayor of Walpole” made it a two-goal game. Columbus’ lead was whittled down to, 5-3.

Late in the middle frame, Marchand (30) tabbed his second goal of the game off a face-off from point blank.

Bergeron (39) had the only assist and the Bruins trailed, 5-4, at 18:37 of the second period.

Marchand has reached the 30-goal plateau for the 4th consecutive season and has at least 85 points in his last three seasons.

Columbus also only had four skaters on the ice– after a stoppage in play that resulted in a face-off in their own zone– for the goal against.

They wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

Heading into the second intermission, Columbus led, 5-4, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 28-17. The Blue Jackets also led in blocked shots (11-5), takeaways (6-4), giveaways (6-3) and face-off win% (70-30).

Boston led in hits (18-9) after 40 minutes of play, while both clubs were 0/2 on the power play entering the third period.

Kampfer cut a rut to the penalty box for slashing Anderson at 1:43 of the third period, but the Blue Jackets did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Panarin slashed Torey Krug at 10:08, but Boston didn’t capitalized on the skater advantage. Despite nearly completing a comeback in the second period– the Bruins failed to score in the final frame.

Heinen hooked David Savard at 10:49 of the third period and Columbus went back on the power play.

Late on the ensuing advantage, Werenski (10) wired a shot into the twine from the point past Halak after the Bruins nearly capitalized on a couple quality shorthanded chances.

Panarin (49) and Anderson (17) notched the assists on Werenski’s goal at 12:21 of the third period and the Blue Jackets led, 6-4.

With less than 90 seconds left in regulation, Cassidy pulled Halak for an extra attacker to no avail.

Jenner (15) completed his first career hat trick with a shot at the empty net from his own end at 19:13. Nash (9) and Werenski (30) had the assists and the Blue Jackets led, 7-4.

Columbus finished the night leading in shots on goal (35-31), blocked shots (13-8), giveaways (7-5) and face-off win% (64-36).

The Blue Jackets went 1/4 on the skater advantage.

Boston finished Tuesday night leading in hits (22-18) and went 0/3 on the power play.

The Bruins are currently 0-2-0 on their three-game road trip that wraps up Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets. Boston returns home to face the Blue Jackets on Saturday before hitting the road against next Tuesday (March 19th) against the New York Islanders.

After the B’s take on the Isles, they swing through New Jersey on March 21st, Florida on March 23rd and Tampa on March 25th.


Columbus Blue Jackets Forecast Through 24 Games

It’s past the quarter mark of the 2018-19 regular season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, but thanks to the way the calendar (and life) works out, I’m a few games behind on presenting my latest forecast for Columbus.

Thankfully, the Blue Jackets have a couple of days between their game on Monday (a 7-5 victory against Detroit) and their next matchup against Minnesota on Thursday.

As such, here’s a quick look at what to expect through the remaining 58 games this season.

Keep in mind, there’s many unknown variables that will change what’s to come due to injury, lineup changes, roster moves and whatever else Microsoft Excel doesn’t already know. My degree is in communication– not math– and I’d like to keep things as brief as I can in John Tortorella fashion so you can look things over, get a gist of it and go back to watching the game.

If a player meets the forecasted stats I’ve updated, they’ve met the latest expectations. If they do better, they’ve exceeded expectations. Of course, if they do worse– they just didn’t live up to expectations– it’s that simple. Well, either that or they missed a lot of action due to injury or something.

Anyway, you can’t forecast puck luck, but you can indicate general trends and estimated hunches based on what the scoresheet indicates each night.

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Columbus Blue Jackets Forecast Through 24 Games (58 Games Remaining)

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Good news, Blue Jackets fans, Artemi Panarin should reach the 80-point plateau this season. Bad news, Blue Jackets fans, Panarin’s still a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and still doesn’t seem intent on sticking around in Columbus.

Other than that, Cam Atkinson is expected to amass 62 points this season (35 expected goals, 27 expected assists) and lead the team in goals, while Pierre-Luc Dubois sits one goal shy of reaching 30 this season.

Josh Anderson should tie Panarin for third place on the roster in goals scored this season with 26 expected goals, while Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner contribute close to 20 goals each.

Newcomer Anthony Ducliar continues his career revival with respectable 19-18–37 expected totals and Zach Werenski should lead all defenders in expected goals (14), assists (32) and points (46).

Meanwhile, noted top-pairing blue liner Seth Jones, should amass 10-28–38 totals from the point with Werenski beating out Jones in goals from the blue line by four.

Scott Harrinton’s expected 18 points fit perfectly behind Ryan Murray (30),  Markus Nutivaara (25) and David Savard (24) as the Blue Jackets defensive corps continues to improve at moving the puck out of their own zone and into quality scoring opportunities.

Other than Panarin’s uncertain future, the only other concern for Columbus revolves around the franchise’s stability in net.

Sergei Bobrovsky‘s expected goals against average has worsened after the first quarter of the season. It’s now set to be a 2.46 GAA by season’s end. Yeah, that’s not great.

In fact, it would be Bobrovsky’s worst GAA since he posted a 2.75 in 37 games played in 2015-16. To begin with, he’s at a 2.74 currently with a .912 save percentage in 16 games this season.

At least Bobrovsky’s save percentage is expected to improve to a .920 SV% by the time 2018-19 wraps up.

Backup netminder, Joonas Korpisalo should end up with a 2.61 GAA and .919 SV% by season’s end, which would be significant improvements from last season’s 3.32 GAA and .897 SV% in 18 games.

As is it, Korpisalo has a 3.73 GAA and .886 SV% through nine games played this season, so things can only get… better? That’s the hope anyway.

Columbus has to work on suppressing shot attempts against, let alone shots on goal, since they’re evidently overworking their goaltenders and it’s showing (remember, a goalie has to move around and “make the save” regardless of whether or not the puck actually hits the net as an official shot on goal).

It’s either that or maybe Bobrovsky isn’t worth as much as some might think he is (because he’s also a pending-UFA in July)– especially in a contract year.

Somehow the Blue Jackets find themselves 2nd in the Metropolitan Division with 30 points on the season and a 14-8-2 record on the season and a plus-six goal differential.

So has Columbus been under the radar and quietly good? Or are they just quietly lucky and surviving in a volatile division (whereby the Pittsburgh Penguins– remember them? they won back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017– are currently 6th in the division outside the playoff picture)?

Time will tell or @capncornelius and/or @vanekatthedisco might fill you in on their outlook sometime.

Columbus Blue Jackets 2018-19 Season Projections

Hello Columbus Blue Jackets fans, I’m not Cap’n Cornelius, but since we know each other and I visited your wonderful city in August, I was determined to deliver some Blue Jackets forecasted stats throughout the season.

Alas, the regular season started almost a month ago, but I promised I’d have some forecasted stats for Columbus’ entire roster for the entire season by the end of the month and I have finally gotten around to it.

These things take time when you’re transferring data into a new system and trying to watch every game on TV, as well as exist on Earth among its people.

For now, let’s pretend the season hasn’t started or that we’ve all jumped into a time machine and gone back to October 1st. How would things play out for the Blue Jackets this season?

Based on last season’s results– a 45-30-7 record, good enough for 97 points on the season and 4th place in the Metropolitan Division as the first wild card team in the Eastern Conference– Columbus is poised for a bit of a bounce-back in the division standings.

Why? Because the other teams ahead of them got worse– namely the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.

The Flyers are off to their usual slow start (wait, I forgot, we’ve time travelled back to the beginning of October) just overall worse and the Capitals look to be dethroned by the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Metropolitan crown at the end of the regular season.

Last season’s Blue Jackets won two playoff games on the road against the eventual Stanley Cup champions, then lost the next four games to extend Columbus’ misery as the only NHL franchise without a playoff series win.

Ian Cole and Matt Calvert left for the Colorado Avalanche in the offseason and defender, Jack Johnson, signed a long-term five-year contract with the Penguins.

Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky survived an offseason of trade speculation, but they’ve both still pending-unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2018-19 season.

That’s the major storyline to the Blue Jackets this year– will it be one last hurrah or will Panarin and/or Bobrovsky leave the city in the dust among the cornfields on its outskirts in what might become the franchise’s greatest departure(s) since trading Rick Nash to the New York Rangers in 2012?

If this season is a failure, is it head coach, John Tortorella’s fault, a roster problem or General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen‘s inability to construct the necessary components of a successful organization?

Critics will be sure to point out all the flaws that mar the franchise, but one thing’s for certain– there’s a lot of expectations.

One way to generate an unnecessary buzz about expectations is to believe your educated guesses about how players should perform this season makes any difference to what actually goes on the ice.

Fear not, for I am about to do just that.

Before I do, however, I’d like to remind those of you in the audience that are familiar with my roster forecasts before and inform those of you that are new here for the first time of my actual area of expertise.

It’s words. My degree is in communication.

There’s nothing that I will present here that you cannot do yourself, better and/or read anywhere else. All of this is an educated guess– an educated expectation– thanks to one of my sport management classes from college.

A player who performs better than their expected outcomes here is merely exceeding these presented expectations. A player who doesn’t meet the expectations could’ve been injured, a healthy scratch or on a chronic cold streak that’s technically unpredictable.

Anything else is just an error outside my expertise and/or Microsoft Excel’s fault.

That, or there’s a little gut-feeling added for players with substantially fewer career NHL games played than the rest of the data shows (basically, if someone’s projected to score 100 goals and has only played in nine games, I might tweak the result until they’ve played a quarter of the season and have either proven themselves as Wayne Gretzky 2.0 or nothing like “the Great One”).

Take a look at the charts below as though everything were to fall in line and nothing bad could ever happen– an utopian view, if you will. Some things may pan out, some things may not– it’s just a suggested (expected) outcome in a sport that’s highly unpredictable thanks to its collective nature and sheer puck luck.

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Columbus Blue Jackets Forecast Through 0 Games (82 Games Remaining)

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As has been the custom since his arrival via trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, Artemi Panarin is expected to lead the Blue Jackets in points with 30-49–79 expected totals. The next best player on the team? Cam Atkinson.

Atkinson’s bound for 27 goals and 24 assists (51 points) this season, while the third best forward on the team, Pierre-Luc Dubois, is expected to match his rookie season totals with another 48-point season, at least.

Alexander Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand are both landing somewhere in the mid-40s in total points as complementary complete players for the Blue Jackets this season.

In the meantime several other forwards fall within the 40-point range, while free agent signing, Riley Nash isn’t expected to break into the 30-point plateau after amassing a career-high 41-point season with the Boston Bruins in 2017-18.

On defense, by default (thanks to Seth Jones‘ delayed start due to injury) or by talent, Zach Werenski emerges as the best two-way defender in Columbus with 14 goals and 30 assists (44 points).

Werenski’s expected totals tops Jones (9-28–37 expected totals) by seven points and is in a league of his own compared to his teammates on the blue line.

Ryan Murray (4-19–23 expected totals) and David Savard (7-19–26 expected totals) land in a respectable range for top-4/top-6 defensemen.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky is looking for redemption with an expected goals against average of 2.37 and an expected save percentage of .923 over the course of 2018-19. Backup netminder, Joonas Korpisalo seeks to provide healthy competition with an expected 2.68 GAA and .917 SV% prior to puck drop on the season.

Of course, now that we’re a month into the regular season, it’ll be time to update this entire forecast once Columbus is about a quarter of the way through their 82-game schedule.


Feel free to check out this season’s forecasts for Boston, Carolina or Vegas.

Columbus Blue Jackets 2018-19 Season Preview

Columbus Blue Jackets

45-30-7, 97 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division

First Wild Card in the East, lost in First Round to Washington (4-2)

Additions: G Jean-Francois Berube, D Adam Clendening, D Tommy Cross, LW Anthony Duclair, C Liam Foudy (’18 1st round pick, signed ELC), C Ryan MacInnis, C Riley Nash, D Dillon Simpson

Subtractions: LW Matt Calvert (signed with COL), D Taylor Chorney (signed with HC Lugano), D Ian Cole (signed with COL), D Cameron Gaunce (signed with TB), D Jack Johnson (signed with PIT), C Mark Letestu (unsigned UFA), RW Thomas Vanek (signed with DET)

Re-signed: RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (3-year, $2.5M), LW Boone Jenner (4-year, $3.75M), D Ryan Murray (1 year, $2.825M)

Offseason Analysis: The Jackets enjoyed a successful, if not slightly underwhelming ’17-’18 campaign, where all-time high hopes were somewhat cooled by some notable underachieving seasons from players like Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and even captain Nick Foligno. Fortunately these were offset somewhat by terrific years from players like rookie standout Pierre-Luc Dubois, emerging Norris Trophy candidate Seth Jones, and superstar Artemi Panarin. They’d close out the regular season on a 15-4-2 run over their final 21 games to lose out to Philadelphia for the final Metropolitan Division spot by a single point, instead drawing the first Wild Card spot and a date with the Washington Capitals.

The Jackets shocked everyone by taking Games 1 and 2 of the series in Washington, both in thrilling overtime fashion, to head back home with a 2-0 hold on the series. Then came “The Promise”. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin told the media they’d be back in Washington for Game 5 with the series tied. They did just that, and rode the momentum on through the Blue Jackets, and everyone else in their way as they went on to grab the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. This was no consolation prize in the minds of Jackets fans, though, as losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions is sort of a calling card in Columbus’ recent history. *throws another dart at a poster of Sidney Crosby*

Now, with another disappointing playoff performance on their record, a list of notable pending free agents on their plate, and the ever-looming Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin contract situations on their hands, the Columbus brass faced a rather trying offseason. But, as has been his MO over the years, GM Jarmo Kekalainen wasn’t about to panic. Or really show any sort of human emotion of any kind. I think that’s just a Finnish thing.

First came the NHL draft, where once again ‘J.K.’ and his staff went a bit off the board for their first round pick, drafting speedster Liam Foudy 18th overall. Generally projected as a very-late first or early second round pick, Foudy caught the eye of the CBJ scouting staff for his ability to inject speed into their lineup, something it could definitely use. While likely to spend at least another year in Juniors, Foudy did ink his entry level contract over the summer.

When free agency opened, the Jackets very quickly lost longtime roster stalwarts Jack Johnson (fans weren’t that upset) and Matt Calvert (fans held memorial services), along with rentals Thomas Vanek, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu. Kekalainen quickly nabbed penalty-killing specialist Riley Nash to replace Letestu’s bottom-six depth. Initially his $2.75 million cap hit over the next three years seemed slightly steep for a guy who projects as a third-line center at best, but with the raised cap and resulting numbers we saw on some other signings/re-signings over the summer, the deal has aged fairly well. A few days later the Jackets would pick up troubled youngster Anthony Duclair on a league-minimum $650 thousand, one-year deal. Likened to the ‘show me’ contract given to Sam Gagner by the Jackets a few years ago that paid dividends, Columbus is hedging bets on Duclair’s willingness to shed some of the baggage he’s accumulated over the past few seasons and work hard to get back to being the player that scored 20 goals and 44 points as a 20-year-old. If he can, he’s an absolute steal. If he can’t, he’s barely even a blip on the salary cap radar, and could be placed on waivers without much concern.

Kekalainen decided to let his organizational depth fill the rest of the vacancies in the roster (which has definitely created one of the more intriguing training camps to watch). Instead, he invested a good portion of his time and effort over the summer into attempting to secure the future services of Artemi Panarin and, to a lesser extent, Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky only recently broke his silence about his situation, revealing that management knows his plans after his contract expires next summer, but declined to make public that information.

Cryptic.

The Panarin situation was much more public, and highlighted by Kekalainen flying to France to visit with Panarin and his agent while the dynamic winger was on vacation. No real progress was made on a contract extension, as Panarin seems likely to either test the waters of free agency or possibly even return to Russia after this season. Some reports indicated he’d prefer to play in a larger market than Columbus, or perhaps at least a market with a beach (he did spend the last month or so of the offseason training with friends Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa), but no solid proof of any of this ever emerged.

The prospects of a future in Columbus that include neither their most potent offensive weapon nor their multi-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender are not fun to consider for the fanbase, but they do appear to be looming. In net, the Jackets do at least boast one of the strongest goaltending prospect pools in the league, but that’s far from a sure thing. Apart from possibly young Vitaly Abramov, they certainly don’t have anyone currently in the pipeline that could replace Panarin’s offensive production.

Getting away from the doom and gloom, let’s circle back to the earlier claim of a very interesting training camp.

The Jackets’ camp roster includes over 60 players, and there are some very tight battles for more than a few roster spots. The race for bottom-six wing minutes is hotly contested. Players with Blue Jackets tenure like Sonny Milano, Markus Hannikainen, and Lukas Sedlak now find themselves being challenged by newcomer Duclair, along with a serious pool of prospects like Sam Vigneault, Kevin Stenlund, Eric Robinson, Jonathan Davidsson, Paul Bittner and even 2018 draft picks Foudy and Traverse City tournament standout Trey Fix-Wolansky.

While I don’t see the 2018 picks making the roster (more time in Juniors would serve their development better than limited fourth-line NHL minutes), the rest are interesting. Duclair obviously adds an element of offense and speed, but has also shown he’s not afraid to play with an edge as well. Vigneault and Stenlund are both every bit of 6-foot-5 and well over 200 pounds, but lack some speed and are both natural centers, a position that should be filled on the roster. Bittner is a superior skater to either of the ‘Twin Towers’, still comes in at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, and is a natural wing, but has struggled to adapt his offensive game to the pro level to this point. Robinson played one game with the Jackets last year coming in as a free agent after captaining the Princeton Tigers in his senior year where he put up 31 points in 36 games. His pro game has yet to really be seen, so training camp and preseason will be important for him. To me, the most interesting name at forward is the Swedish RW Davidsson. An effortless skater, he brings plenty of speed and agility to the lineup, and has shown to be an extremely intelligent playmaker, but he’s definitely not a physical presence nor a defensive stalwart, so not who you’d normally have in a bottom-six role. He could probably use another year in either the SHL or AHL to continue his physical and defensive development, but if he impresses in camp he could at least get a look.

My projected forward lines are:
Panarin – Dubois – Atkinson
Jenner – Wennberg – Bjorkstrand
Milano – Dubinsky – Foligno
Sedlak – Nash – Anderson
Extra forwards Hannikainen and Duclair

On defense, Columbus has the luxury of one of the best top pairs in the league, with Seth Jones alongside blueline sniper Zach Werenski. Werenski set the franchise record for goals as a defenseman last year while playing basically the entire year with a destroyed shoulder. Offseason surgery will keep him slightly limited in camp and likely out of all preseason games, but he’s projected to be 100 percent ready to go for the beginning of the season. After the top pair, though, things are pretty fluid, with approximately seven players vying for the four remaining spots. Three of the four (David Savard, Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara) are pretty well locked into the lineup, just more a question of where exactly they’ll sit on the depth chart. But the competition for the No. 6 spot and final roster spot as the seventh man is tight. Dean Kukan and Scott Harrington both saw limited NHL action with the Jackets last year, with Kukan putting up a respectable 4 points in 11 games and Harrington proving to be a reliable No. 6 down the stretch run. Adam Clendening only saw five games with Arizona last year, and has bounced between the leagues a lot in the past few seasons, but his last full season in the AHL saw him put up 59 points in 74 games. He’s not always the most defensively reliable guy, but he’s the best puck mover of the contenders. My personal pick for not only the Jackets roster but also for the No. 6 slot is 6-foot-5 Gabriel Carlsson. While still working to put some bulk on his lanky frame, Carlsson has already adapted well to the North American game, being a steady presence on the Cleveland blueline last year in the AHL. While certainly not an offensive producer, he’s very poised with the puck and is a confident passer. He skates well and uses his lengthy reach to make sure he’s always in good position. He’s also capable of playing either side of the ice.

I have the defense shaping up like this:
Werenski – Jones
Murray – Savard
Carlsson – Nuutivaara
Extra defenseman Harrington

In net, things are unlikely to look any different than last year. While J.F. Berube was brought in to challenge for the backup position after Joonas Korpisalo had a bit of regression last year, he’ll likely head to Cleveland as Korpi’s deal is one-way. Elvis Merzilikins and Daniil Tarasov are both top goaltending prospects, but they’ll continue their development overseas for the time being.

Offseason Grade: C+

Though there seems to be a general sense that more should have been done to improve the team over the summer, the handful of moves made were smart. The big thing here is that there is a lot of potential turmoil brewing heading towards next year. Kekalainen was likely smart not to hedge any knee-jerk bets on this season and instead rely upon his strong organizational depth to improve the team.

If the youngsters make an impact, and you get a rebound season from a vet or two, suddenly even the prospect of losing your two Russian dynamos seems less daunting. Panarin is definitely trade bait for a big return before the deadline if you need to go that route, and if the team gets better from within, that leaves big chunks of cap space to bring in other pieces if necessary.

While they’ll obviously look to improve their fortunes (particularly in the playoffs) this year, it will really be next offseason where the brass will have to earn those shiny new contracts they received this month.

Tortorella and Watson, Wednesday’s News

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Columbus Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella, received a two-year extension with the club and will now be under contract through the 2020-21 season. Since being hired by the Blue Jackets on October 21, 2015, Columbus has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons– a franchise first for consecutive playoff berths.

The Blue Jackets have a 129-87-23 record with Tortorella in 239 games. He currently holds the franchise’s all-time records in wins (129) and points percentage (.588).

A native of Boston, Massachusetts, the 60-year-old head coach doesn’t show any signs of slowing down and is looking to win his second Stanley Cup from behind the bench. His first came at the helm of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.

Tortorella’s career as a head coach in the NHL spans stints with four clubs including the Lightning (2000-08), New York Rangers (2008-13), Vancouver Canucks (2013-14) and Blue Jackets (2015-present). He’s a two-time Jack Adams Award winner as the NHL coach of the year and has the most all-time NHL victories among U.S.-born head coaches. He’s also coached the U.S. national team twice in his career– once at the 2008 IIHF Men’s World Championship and again in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

The extension comes at a crucial time for the Blue Jackets as the roster is stacked with talent in the likes of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and Sergei Bobrovsky. Panarin and Bobrovsky are both pending-unrestricted free agents at the end of the season and Panarin’s already indicated he doesn’t intend on re-signing with Columbus.


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Wednesday evening, the National Hockey League announced Nashville Predators forward, Austin Watson, would be suspended for all preseason and the first 27 games of the regular season for “unacceptable off-ice conduct”. His suspension is without pay and the NHLPA will be filing an appeal.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman referenced Rule 18-A of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and his ruling came following an investigation by the NHL and an in-person hearing in New York City on Friday, September 7th.

Watson was arrested on June 16, 2018 in Tennessee relating to an incident with his domestic partner. He pled no contest to a charge of domestic assault on July 24, 2018.

Per the League’s Public Relations department, Bettman released the following statement, “I have determined that Nashville Player Austin Watson engaged in a physical confrontation with his domestic partner. Today’s ruling, while tailored to the specific facts of this case and the individuals involved, is necessary and consistent with the NHL’s strongly held view that it cannot and will not tolerate this and similar types of conduct.”

There is no standard length for the suspension of a player involved in domestic violence, but Watson was suspended for seven more games than Vegas Golden Knights defender, Nate Schmidt, received for seven billionths of a performance enhancing drug found in his urine.

Capitals win in 2OT, cut series to 2-1

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Entering Tuesday night, no team had ever lost three consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff games in overtime.

So when Game 3 of the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets First Round matchup went to overtime Washington sports fans began to sink in their seats imagining the ways the Capitals would surely disappoint them and become the first team to lose three consecutive overtime games in the postseason.

Just kidding, the Capitals won, 3-2, in double overtime.

In his first start for Washington this postseason, Braden Holtby made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 save percentage in double overtime win. Meanwhile, Sergei Bobrovsky made 42 saves on 45 shots against for a .933 SV% in the loss.

Almost midway through the first period, Washington’s Tom Wilson caught Columbus forward Pierre-Luc Dubois with a high-stick. The Blue Jackets were not able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Josh Anderson followed up with a minor penalty of his own for interference at 11:55 of the first period, sending the Capitals on their first man advantage of the night. Washington, however, could not get anything going on the power play and the score remained, 0-0.

Jakub Vrana caught Blue Jackets defender Ryan Murray with a high-stick late in the first period and Columbus went on their second power play of the night.

After 20 minutes of play, Game 3 was tied, 0-0, with the Capitals leading in shots on goal (11-9), blocked shots (8-6) and giveaways (3-2). Washington was 0/1 on the power play in the first frame and Columbus was 0/2 on the man advantage entering the first intermission.

Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella, was not pleased as his team bungled a line change and cost themselves a minor penalty for too many men on the ice a couple of minutes into the second period. Luckily for Tortorella, the Capitals were not able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Tom Wilson (1) scored the first goal of the game on a shot from Matt Niskanen that Wilson tipped past Bobrovsky to give Washington a 1-0 lead at 5:52 of the 2nd period. Niskanen (1) and Alex Ovechkin (1) had the assists on the goal in Ovechkin’s 100th career postseason game.

Thanks to Wilson’s goal, Washington has scored first in all three games in the series so far.

The Capitals thought they had a two-goal lead when Brett Connolly capitalized on a loose puck, but thanks to a coach’s challenge from Columbus, the goal was overturned on the basis that Washington had entered the zone offside. Tortorella played his cards and robbed the Caps of some surefire momentum, had they been able to go up by a pair of goals.

Columbus made sure to take advantage of their new-found life as Pierre-Luc Dubois (1) fired a wrist shot past Holtby’s glove side to tie the game, 1-1. Dubois’s goal, his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal, was assisted by Artemi Panarin (5) and Seth Jones (3) at 11:18 of the 2nd period.

But just as quickly as things can go your way, momentum can swing equally as fast in the other direction and the Blue Jackets learned that the hard way.

Brandon Dubinsky slashed Vrana at 13:08 of the second period, giving Washington a 5-on-4 man advantage until Columbus defender, Ryan Murray, also slashed Vrana about a minute later.

Suddenly, Barry Trotz’s Capitals had a two-man advantage.

John Carlson (1) received a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and put everything into a one-timed slap shot that beat Bobrovsky and made it 2-1 Washington. Backstrom (5) and Ovechkin (2) notched the assists on the goal.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Capitals led 2-1 on the scoreboard and in shots on goal (25-16). Columbus led in blocked shots (12-9) and takeaways (2-1). Washington was 1/4 on the power play and the Blue Jackets power play unit was 0/2.

Despite trailing by a goal entering the third period, the Blue Jackets had the Capitals right where they wanted them— or so they thought.

Panarin (2) tied the game, 2-2, early into the third period on a great give and go with Cam Atkinson. Atkinson (2) had the only assist on the goal at 4:12 of the period and Columbus was in the midst of a huge momentum swing.

Brooks Orpik checked Blue Jackets captain, Nick Foligno, while he was away from the puck and was penalized for interference. Columbus would have another chance on the power play, but their special teams just could not beat Holtby.

With the game tied, 2-2, at the end of regulation, both teams exited the ice to regroup, refocus and refresh for sudden death overtime. Washington was outshooting Columbus, 31-26, after 60 minutes of play and the Blue Jackets were leading in blocked shots (17-12), as well as hits (27-17), despite going 0/3 on the power play up to that point.

For the third straight game in the series— and 22nd time in NHL history that a playoff series has seen three consecutive overtime games— overtime got underway at Nationwide Arena.

Both teams swapped chances early before the Blue Jackets settled into a rhythm of constant offense. Holtby was not wavered.

Not even after Carlson tripped up Zach Werenski late in the first overtime period and forced the Capitals to kill off another penalty— which they did, successfully.

One overtime was not enough, as the score remained tied, 2-2. Washington was still leading in shots on goal (37-33) and Columbus still had an advantage in blocked shots (26-16). After another 18 minute intermission, sudden death overtime resumed.

Nine minutes into the second overtime, Connolly threw the puck on goal where it deflected off of Werenski, then after Lars Eller (1) and into the netting behind Bobrovsky. The Capitals had held off Columbus long enough to attain complete control of the game flow in the second overtime and win the game on a fluke play.

Connolly (1) and Devante Smith-Pelly (1) had the assists on the game-winning goal in the longest postseason game in Blue Jackets franchise history.

Washington finished the night with a 45-35 advantage in shots on goal and 1/4 on the power play, but Columbus led in blocked shots (28-16), hits (36-26) and faceoff win percentage (54-46). None of that mattered as the Capitals had won the game, 3-2. The Blue Jackets inability to convert on a power play left them 0/4 on the night.

With Eller’s game winning goal having sealed the fate of Game 3, Washington had won in double overtime by a score of 3-2. The Blue Jackets take a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 at Nationwide Arena on Thursday night. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 7:30 p.m. ET and fans interested in catching the action in the United States can tune to USA, while fans in Canada can follow along with the action on Sportsnet or TVAS2.

Columbus sitting pretty with 2-0 lead

 

Another overtime game, another Columbus Blue Jackets victory, as they beat the Washington Capitals 5-4 to take a two-tilt advantage going into Game 3.

Even though it was challenged for offsides, First Star of the Game LW Matt Calvert (D Zach Werenski and RW Josh Anderson) scored his fourth career postseason goal – and second-ever playoff overtime winner – to etch his name into Jackets lore on an elevated wrist shot to the near post from along the goal line with 7:38 remaining in the first overtime period.

For a franchise that has never escaped the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Blue Jackets are a mighty confident team right now. Going back to the regular season, Columbus has earned a 15-2-2 record in its last 19 games played and is showing no signs of slowing down yet.

That being said, tonight was not a game in which Columbus dominated play. That was made apparent right from the opening puck drop, as F Jay Beagle (D Brooks Orpik and D Jakub Jerabek) scored Washington’s first shot on goal to give the Capitals an early 1-0 advantage. That lead doubled to two 11:14 later when Third Star W Alex Ovechkin (D John Carlson and F T.J. Oshie) scored a power play slap shot from his usual spot in the left face-off circle.

In all, the Capitals out-shot the Blue Jackets 58-30, earning a dominating 28-shot differential that effectively demonstrated just how much action was taking place in G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s end.

However, it was the incredible play of Bobrovsky – who saved 54-of-58 shots faced (.931 save percentage) and earns the honorary DtFR Fourth Star – that not only kept the Jackets alive defensively, but also allowed Columbus to set up an effective counterattack on numerous occasions.

Enter Second Star RW Cam Atkinson with 1:35 remaining in the first period. Having been the Jacket called for the goalie interference penalty that allowed Ovechkin to find the back of the net 4:59 earlier, Atkinson (F Nick Foligno) collected a long stretch pass that crossed both blue lines to beat G Philipp Grubauer‘s left skate to the post with a wrister, pulling Columbus back within a goal.

Even though it came late in the period, Atkinson’s play signified a major turning point in this game. The tally came on the heels of the conclusion of two minutes of four-on-four play (F Pierre-Luc Dubois and F Evgeny Kuznetsov were charged with corresponding slashing minors) that certainly boosted the confidence of Columbus’ defense.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Washington to try to reclaim control after the intermission – and it did with a little help from F Brandon Dubinsky, who accidentally removed Carlson’s helmet with a hi-stick while hitting W Devante Smith-Pelly.

The power play is usually Ovechkin’s (C Nicklas Backstrom and Carlson) time to shine, and he didn’t disappoint by burying another one of his patented clappers at the 4:09 mark of the frame – only eight seconds after Dubinsky took his seat in the sin bin.

However, a two-goal advantage is all the Caps could manage, as the Jackets started to turn the tides in their favor to score three goals before the second intermission.

Getting back to the counterattack point from earlier, Anderson (Werenski and LW Artemi Panarin) was the next beneficiary at the 8:49 mark of the frame. After W Brett Connolly fell down in the corner to Bobrovsky’s right, Anderson pounced on the newly vacated puck to set up a five-on-two rush for Columbus. With such a man-advantage, it’s no surprise that the Jackets were able to pass the puck back-and-forth enough times to confuse Grubauer and pull themselves back within a one-goal differential.

The theme of Game 1 was unwise and untimely penalties, and the Capitals decided to reprise that story line for the remainder of the second frame with two such infractions that resulted in Columbus goals.

First was a RW Tom Wilson roughing penalty against D Seth Jones with 9:24 remaining in the period. Like so often happens in a hockey game – regardless of if it is in the regular season or playoffs – there was a little scrum in front of Grubauer’s net after he froze the puck. However, Wilson took offense to this one in particular and elected to literally jump into the fray and take Jones down to the ice. In turn, Atkinson (Panarin and Jones) made his stay in the penalty box only 37 seconds long after tying the game with a power play wrister.

Old habits die hard, so it only makes sense that Smith-Pelly was sent to the box with 2:20 remaining before the second intermission for a holding the stick penalty. This power play lasted 1:12, but the net result as the same: Werenski (RW Oliver Bjorkstrand and Panarin) scoring another goal for the Blue Jackets, giving them their first lead of the night.

With the rumored hockey gods distributing power play goals like Oprah gives away household appliances, it’s only logical that the Capitals would be handed one last opportunity to level the game when Werenski flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game infraction with 4:51 remaining in regulation.

Still looking for his first goal of the 2018 postseason, Oshie (Backstrom and Carlson) capitalized on the man-advantage to bury a power play snap shot, tying the game at 4-4 with 3:35 remaining in regulation.

But wait, there’s more! After Oshie scored, F Boone Jenner didn’t like him very much so he tripped him with 1:59 remaining in regulation. That’s right, ladies and gentleman: Jenner decided to give the regular season’s seventh-best power play a shot at winning this game in regulation.

Fortunately for Jenner, he escaped the wrath of Head Coach John Tortorella when Wilson absolutely whiffed on an excellent opportunity, allowing the game to advance into overtime which eventually ended in Columbus’ favor.

Though he didn’t start the game, G Braden Holtby takes the overtime loss after saving seven-of-eight shots faced (.875 save percentage) in the third period and overtime. He replaced Grubauer, who saved 18-of-22 (.818) and earned no decision, following the second intermission.

Of note, W Andre Burakovsky suffered an upper body injury on his first shift of the game, meaning the Capitals played almost the entire contest with only 11 forwards. It remains to be seen what his status for Game 3 and beyond will be for Washington.

After a short flight west to Central Ohio, Game 3 will take place at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, April 17 at Nationwide Arena. American viewers can catch the game on NBCSN, while Canada will be serviced by SN360 and TVAS.

Why Jackets Fans Need to Step Off the Ledge

This has definitely not been the season that Jackets fans had hoped for in September or even the season it seemed like it would be in late October.  Sitting outside of a playoff spot with a week to go before the trade deadline is less than ideal.  With the Devils now seven points ahead of the Jackets with 23 games left, the only spot left for them in the playoffs may be the eighth seed and a first round matchup against Tampa Bay, a team they have struggled mightily against this year.

Even if they went on a tear and somehow got the sixth or seventh seed, they would likely find themselves playing the Penguins or Capitals in round one, two other teams they have not played particularly well against.  The loss yesterday to Pittsburgh was not encouraging–a team built around speed looked slow and lethargic compared to the Pens (even more amazing when you consider the Jackets are the younger team) and the Jackets’ Vezina-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky again struggled to solve the Penguins.

Many fans are frustrated.  They want results and are tired of waiting.  I certainly understand this, but I also think that perspective is needed and last year’s unexpected season probably had us thinking the team was closer than it was just as the prior season’s disastrous performance had us thinking the team was further away that it actually was.

I’m going to take you back in time to April of 2016 at the end of that disastrous season when I wrote the following on another site:

So, a Jackets team that is capable of winning the Cup has those basic ingredients–an elite defenseman, an elite center, solid goaltending and forward depth.  The Jackets do not possess all of these things, clearly and you could argue that the 2015-16 Jackets had none of those things.  So, what is a reasonable timeline to get to the destination?

I am going to argue that the Jackets are closer than you think, but that the timeframe to get there is longer than you want it to be.  I believe this team can compete for a Cup in three years.

Three years.  This is year two.  Yes, it seems that the team has taken one step forward and one step back since then, but things are still on schedule.

Let’s start by looking at elite defensemen.  Zach Werenski and Seth Jones is as good of a pair as any in the NHL.  In 2016, this was still a question mark because we hadn’t seen Werenski.  This has been solved.  Beyond the top pair, there are some issues that will need to be addressed, but this could be resolved through players in the pipeline.  Markus Nutivaara has really shown his worth this season.  Gabriel Carlsson is still in Cleveland.  Vladislav Gavrikov will spend another year in the KHL–shout out to the NHL for deciding not to go to the Olympics!  Before he was hobbled with injuries, Ryan Murray was solid.  Beyond Jones, the right side is the weakness.  Savard has had a horrible year.  David Savard will get another chance next year likely paired with Nutivaara or Carlsson as Jack Johnson will not be back.  Maybe a new partner will reinvigorate him.  If not, one of the lefties will need to take that spot.  Either way, keep in mind that Jones and Werenski will play monster minutes in any future playoff run and the bottom pair will play minimal minutes.  They just need to get a top-four that works consistently.

Pierre-Luc Dubois has exceeded expectations.  His even-strength CF% within 1 is second only to Artemi Panarin for Jackets’ regulars (Zac Dalpe is the statistical anomaly at #1 due to small sample size).  His size, speed and willingness to drive to the net could make him a player in the mold of Ryan Getzlaf.  He’s the center the franchise has always needed.  There may be growing pains, but the potential is there and the work ethic also seems to be there.

Forward depth.  Let’s start with the positive.  The Jackets have a wealth of options on the right side.  Josh Anderson, Cam Atkinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand can all be scoring threats and they do it in their own unique ways.  Anderson’s size and speed make him a tough guy to defend.  Atkinson also possesses speed, but has more agility and creativity.  Bjorkstrand is a sniper who is also become a solid defender despite his size.  Meanwhile, Vitaly Abramov has picked up right where he left off last season in the QMJHL.  It is unclear if he’ll make the team next year or spend a year in Cleveland, but Abramov has a high upside.

On the left side, Panarin has been everything he was billed to be, but he has also impressed me with his play away from the puck more than I expected.  Matt Calvert always gives 100 percent.  Other than those two, this has been part of the team’s struggles this season.  Before yesterday’s injury, Nick Foligno has not looked as quick as he has when the team is at its best.

But, there is some good news.  For one, I don’t think Sonny Milano has been as bad as some would have you believe and I think maybe Torts needs to relax with the kid just a bit and find line mates who can cover for his deficiencies as he works on them.  This team was at its best this year when Milano was in the lineup.   The Jackets either need to give Milano another chance at second line left wing or they need to find someone else to fill that role so that Foligno can slot in on the third line.

The Jackets have center depth, it just seems that, outside of Dubois, every center is slotted about 1 spot above where they should be.  Alexander Wennberg‘s 2016-17 performance was inflated by unsustainable power play production.  Once Wennberg stopped producing on power play (January of last year), his overall performance trailed off and frankly, it hasn’t rebounded.  I’ll probably write about this at more length, but despite what you may have read elsewhere, his struggles are real.  The Jackets options are (1) upgrade Wennberg or (2) fix the problem on the second line left wing and hope that improves Wennberg’s production.  Given that Wennberg is never going to produce his own goals and the Jackets’ competition has Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the first route may be the better route, but it is also the more expensive route.

The other issue may be Brandon Dubinsky.  No, I’m not all that concerned that he has “career-threatening issues” as some have reported.  I’m more concerned that the reporting has created a rift and lead him to want out.  Stan Fischler suggested this on a recent broadcast. Trying to move Dubinsky would be a real challenge.  Beyond that, Dubi playing on the third (or fourth) line is exactly the sort of depth we need.  The team may need to rebuild this relationship and hopefully certain journalists can avoid fanning the flames further.

In the pipeline and under the radar is Kevin Stenlund, who has been playing in Europe. Stenlund could challenge Lukas Sedlak next year for a roster spot or play a season in Cleveland with Abramov, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for both players.

While it has been a disappointing season in Cleveland as well, there are still some guys there who could provide the Jackets some needed depth.  Paul Bittner, Calvin Thurkauf and Tyler Motte are still young and could be nice additions to the bottom six.

The drags on the Jackets speed game and possession statistics may soon be moved.  Johnson has reportedly demanded a trade, and I’d like to personally thank him for that.  If reports are true that he could yield a first round pick (or more), that is very good news for the Jackets.  On a sadder note, Boone Jenner is probably in need of a change of scenery.  He doesn’t seem to mesh well with what the Jackets are attempting to do.  He could also still yield a valuable asset in return and could create some cap space for the offseason to address some of the issues raised above and to start dealing with extensions for key players like Panarin and Werenski.

Which leaves us with goaltending.  While I believe Joonas Korpisalo is an improvement over his predecessor, there remains a $9 million (plus?) question with respect to Bobrovsky after next year.  That’s a conservative estimate of what the two-time Vezina winner might seek on his next contract.  At 30-years-old, he’s also likely going to be seeking a six-eight year deal.  That is a large commitment to a player who has yet to come up big when it matters most.  The Rangers and Canadiens have two great goaltenders making $8.5 million and $10.5 million next year.  They are also both out of the playoffs this year with the Rangers having sent a letter to fans breaking it to them gently that they will be deadline sellers.

There is no doubt that the Jackets would be even worse without Bob, but the question has to be asked if the team can afford to tie up that much cap space in one player.  If not, this is the offseason they have to start dealing with the transition.  Does that mean buying out Elvis Merzlikins’ contract with Lugano so the 23-year-old can come over to North America next year?  Does that mean making a deal to acquire a goaltender in case negotiations with Bob don’t work out?  Does that mean getting Korpisalo more playing time next year despite the theory that Bob doesn’t do well on long rest?  Or, does it mean doing the unthinkable–trading Bobrovsky and acquiring a replacement at a lower cap hit?  It is a difficult situation and one that could define the franchise going forward.

While it would hurt to miss the playoffs, I would not be bothered by getting the top 10 pick I fully expected the team to get last year.  That’s another asset that can either be flipped for immediate help or, the better option in my view, kept to sustain organizational depth into the future.

Regardless, the Jackets are closer now than they were two years ago, and still on schedule.  They have the center they needed.  They have the defensemen they needed.  And, for now, they have an elite goaltender though they need to make a decision about his future.  They also have players who can yield them assets at the deadline (and, in Jenner’s case, even at the draft) if they decide to move them.  The Jackets are not far away, if they can use these assets and some cap space to address their issues on the second line, they can be in a position to be a contender next year and beyond.

Weekly Bumblings for Week 9 With Special Guest Host, Cap’n Cornelius

Peter’s vacation continues, so you are stuck with me once more for the recap of last week’s NHL action.

Player of the Week: Artemi Panarin

You didn’t really think I’d get through two straight columns without talking about the Blue Jackets, did you? The Breadman had been having a solid if unspectacular year as the calendar turned to December.  Despite his talent (or because of it), it had taken some time for the Jackets to find line mates that paired well with the Russian winger.  The initial thought was to put him with Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson.  On paper, that line made all of the sense in the world—two high scoring wingers paired with a player who showed his acumen for setting the table last season.  On the ice was a different story.  While Atkinson and Panarin clicked at points, Wennberg was too conservative, often playing in no man’s land beyond the offensive zone face-off circles.

This lead to weeks of John Tortorella running the blender to try and find lines that worked. In the meantime, Wennberg’s injury also forced Tortorella to get more creative at center, a position the Jackets had been looking to upgrade during the offseason.  Enter rookie, Pierre-Luc Dubois.  While the Jackets wanted Dubois to be their center of the future, the team had been hesitant to play him at the position, preferring to try and ease him in.  But Torts took the advice of Dubois’ father who had found that when he was struggling with his game, he actually improved when forced into the rigors of playing center.  After a bit of a cold spell for Dubois, Tortorella decided to give it a try and Dubois slowly moved his way up the lineup, taking advantage of the opportunity presented by Wennberg’s absence, and finding himself on the top line with Panarin and Josh Anderson.  If the Jackets make noise in the postseason, the decision to unite the three unlikely line mates may be looked back as the moment that set the table for their success.

So, in recent weeks, the line which has affectionately become known as PB&J (Pierre, Breadman and Josh) has started to click, but Panarin had yet to really have a performance where he went off. That changed on Friday night in New Jersey.  After a poor performance in Columbus on Tuesday against the Devils (notwithstanding excellent possession performances from the PB&J line), the Jackets’ backs were to the wall.  They really needed the win against their divisional opponent given how tight the race is in the Metropolitan.  The game didn’t start well for the Jackets with the team entering intermission down 2-0 and likely facing an unhappy LukasTortorella in the locker room.  But the tide would turn in the second period largely due to the efforts of Panarin.

Panarin caused a turnover which found its way to Dubois’ stick for his first assist of the night. Another turnover created by Panarin lead to a goal by Lukas Sedlak in the middle of a line change to even up the score.  Panarin’s third assist of the night may have been the most impressive.  As four Devils watched Panarin, he saw the trailer, Scott Harrington, and made a perfect cross ice pass to get Harrington the goal.  After the Devils tied it before the second period ended, the Jackets got a rare power play goal when Panarin made a backhanded pass to Wennberg who, in a rarer aggressive play, went to the net and buried the puck.  Panarin would add a fifth first assist of the night when he found an open Zach Werenski for the fifth and final goal of the night. And that summary of the game doesn’t even fully encapsulate how well Panarin played.  He was consistently finding his way through traffic and the puck seemed to be magnetically attracted to the tape on his stick blade.

While Saturday’s game was not nearly as exciting, Panarin still managed a Corsi For percentage of 58%. The Jackets would strike early as Panarin found Anderson behind the net and he would bury it top shelf.  When you have Sergei Bobrovsky in net, sometimes one goal is enough, and it would prove to be the case.  Panarin now has 6 straight primary assists for Columbus, but when you look back at Panarin’s performance this week, the thing that stands out that is underrated about him and is the big difference from Brandon Saad, is his play away from the puck.  His work in creating two turnovers that set up those first two goals against New Jersey during a crucial time in the game on Friday prevented the game from getting out of control and righted the ship for a team that had a couple poor performances against divisional opponents before that game.

Game of the Week: Winnipeg Jets 3 at Tampa Bay Lightning 4 (OT), December 9, 2017.

We’ve covered this game extensively this week, and with good reason. One of the top teams in the Western, versus one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. A classic matchup between the immovable object and the unstoppable force.  Even with the Jets coming off of two losses entering the game, you knew they would play up for this one.  Yes, I’m talking about Winnipeg for the second time in my two weeks doing this column and no it isn’t because there is a social media account that retweets anything you tweet featuring the word Winnipeg, positive or negative (yes, that really was a thing).

The game got off to a quick start as you’d expect from two offensive powerhouses. Adam Lowry showed some great patience with two Lightning players defending him to find Andrew Copp in the slot for the first goal of the game.  The Lightning continued their streak of nine straight games with a power play goal (that’s possible, eh?) when Brayden Point made a beautiful feed to give Yanni Gourde a goal that Connor Hellebuyck had no hope to stop.

A Cedric Paquette goal was overturned for goaltender interference by Chris Kunitz, so the score would stay 1-1, but Mikhail Sergachev would finally put the Lightning ahead with a beautiful shot after losing his defender with a quick change of directions. The Jets would not go away though.  Former Youngstown Phantom, Kyle Connor, would redirect a rising shot from Josh Morrissey to even the game at 2 and that is how the second period would end.

Winnipeg retook the lead near the midway point of the third period when Nikolaj Ehlers somehow found Andrei Vasilevskiy’s five hole before the goaltender could even react to the shot.  After Vasilevskiy would stop another attempt by Ehlers, Nikita Kucherov’s shot through traffic somehow found the net and the score was again tied at three.  Note—the sequence I just described happened in all of about 2 minutes of game time.  Both teams then settled down and got the game to overtime to salt away a point for their troubles.

Overtime wouldn’t last long though as Point would elude Bryan Little and get his backhand over Hellebuyck.

The Lightning continue to be in a class by themselves in the early part of the season, but the Jets gave it their all.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

A busy week in NHL and other hockey news. On Tuesday the news came down that Russia would be banned from the Winter Olympics as punishment for their concerted efforts to violate anti-doping rules during the Sochi games in 2014.  Clean Russian athletes will still be permitted to play at the games, but not under the Russian flag.  If they are looking for a team name, I suggest “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Russia, Steroid Free!”  There was concern that the KHL might prevent its players from playing in the Olympics, which would have thrown a monkey wrench in Team Canada’s plans for the games.  However, cooler heads prevailed as the KHL probably realized there was value to having its athletes compete on the world’s highest international stage…unlike the NHL.

Backing up slightly, last Monday the City of Seattle approved the memorandum of understanding with the Oak View Group to remodel the ancient KeyArena at a cost of around $600 million (most of it comes from private funds) so that it could be suitable to host one or more professional sports franchises. This will likely be the death knell for a competing project which would have seen a new arena built closer where the existing stadiums are, in SoDo.  The NHL owners, who conveniently had a Board of Governor’s meeting, couldn’t wait to let Seattle know that they would be willing to take their money consider their application for expansion.  Fee for expansion?  $650 million, exceeding the $500 million that Vegas just paid.  I think Seattle is a great market for hockey in an underserved part of the country, but I also think the economics of a team with startup costs of over one billion dollars are a bit shaky.  For comparison, the Blue Jackets paid a franchise fee of $80 million and built an arena at a cost of $175 million…and still eventually needed a bailout from local government.  From the league’s side, it is understandable why they prefer Seattle to, say, Quebec City, because of the geographic balance adding the market will create.

Finally, let’s take a moment to remember 11 years ago when Anson Carter and his Columbus Blue Jackets teammates released a Christmas album. Amazingly I see no trace of this masterpiece on YouTube, so, if you are looking for a Christmas gift for me, there you go.