Blue Jackets streaking
For the past two seasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been the NHL’s punching bag. Much of it they brought upon themselves through a rash of injuries similar to the one the Green Bay Packers’ defense is going through right now.
After reaching the playoffs in 2014 and putting an intense scare into the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus appeared poised for a huge 2014-15, not only making the playoffs, but also winning a round or two. Some experts even had them in contention for champion of the Metropolitan Division.
Then the unthinkable happened, the Blue Jackets lost 502 man-games to injury. To put that number into perspective, that is the equivalent of losing over six players for the entire regular season. Given that NHL rosters feature 21 skaters and up to three goaltenders, that is as little as a quarter of the roster missing.
With a few months off after that disastrous campaign, it was assumed that 2015-16 would be better. In fact, experts again predicted that the Blue Jackets would return to the playoffs or at least be in the discussion for them.
Then the season began, and Columbus started 0-7-0, hardly playoff material.
The horrible start cost head coach Todd Richards his job. They replaced him with John Tortorella.
Under “Torts” as he is affectionately known, Columbus went 34-33-8 for the remainder of the season. Had they started the season 4-3 instead of 0-7, they still would not have made the playoffs, but 84 points would be 12 short of a spot, as opposed to 20 points back.
This season, the Blue Jackets started the season 0-2 after losing to Boston and San Jose. After dropping two more games, Columbus won two more games including a 3-2 overtime game at home against Dallas, the Columbus of this season in terms of man-games lost to injury already.
Calls for Torts’ firing were swirling oddly with the team’s record sitting at 4-4. How much of that was linked to Team USA’s poor performance at the World Cup of Hockey would have been an interesting question.
Since then the Blue Jackets have gone 6-0-2. They racked up 10 goals in a whitewashing of the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 4. They went on to beat Anaheim, St. Louis, Washington, the New York Rangers and then Washington again Sunday afternoon. Columbus has now won four in a row and a team-record seven in a row at home.
There have been several players who have gone through amazing experiences through the past three seasons or so and are off to fast starts this season.
Nick Foligno scored 31 goals and 73 points during the 2014-15 season, his third in Ohio’s capital. Named captain before the 2015-16 campaign, Foligno struggled to a 12-goal, 37-point disaster. This season, Foligno seems to have settled into his role and is now embracing it, scoring seven goals and 18 points through the first 16 games of the season.
The Blue Jackets traded star center Ryan Johansen last season to land defenseman Seth Jones. The move opened the door for third-year center Alexander Wennberg to take over the role. He has responded to the increased role by potting three goals and 14 points through 16 games.
Former Boston College standout Cam Atkinson set new career highs with 27 goals and 53 points last season. He has five goals and 15 points through 16 games this season.
Brandon Saad scored a career-high 31 goals and 53 points last season. He has four goals and 13 points despite bouncing from the first to the third line on any given night.
Sam Gagner, a former Edmonton Oilers’ first-round pick, scored just eight goals last season for Philadelphia. Through 15 games this season, he has seven.
Oh, and former Michigan standout Zach Werenski is also pretty good. After playing well for two seasons in Ann Arbor, Werenski helped the Lake Erie Monsters win the American Hockey League playoffs last season. This season, he has cemented himself as a Calder Trophy candidate as Rookie of the Year thanks to a five-goal, 14-point start to the season.
Finally, the Blue Jackets had one of the best early-season stories occur Friday night in a 4-2 victory over the Rangers. Winger Matt Calvert, who had just one goal and one assist coming into the game, blocked a shot with his head, leading to a pool of blood forming on the ice. Calvert not only got repairs and returned to the game later, he ended up scoring the game-winning goal shorthanded.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Blue Jackets experts thought were going to arrive two seasons ago are here now. They are worth a viewing, as several players are doing some very special things.