As the National Hockey League (NHL) season approaches the one quarter (1/4) mark of the 2017-18 regular season, the Columbus Blue Jackets are in a solid position at this point with a record of 13-7-1, good for 27 total points and currently in 1st place in the very competitive Metropolitan division of the NHL. Overall, it has been a series of ‘ups and downs’ for the NHL’s youngest team, with the Blue Jackets currently on a four-game winning streak after previously enduring a four-game losing streak and a 1-4-1 record over its prior 6 contests. So, while the Blue Jackets’ fast start created a buzz in Ohio’s capital city, the recent skid has shown that it will create learning opportunities for the team and that improvement is needed as the team enters the middle of the regular season, where hopefully, they move towards playoff positioning, particularly with four players playing in their first, full-time regular season in the NHL.
What’s been interesting about the Blue Jackets’ performance to date is that many of their veteran stalwarts have yet to get untracked as well as their prized off-season acquisition, Artemi Panarin who has only five (5) goals after 21 games played, this from the NHL’s sixth leading point-getter during his first two NHL seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks.
In the case of Panarin, it’s not an issue of getting fed the puck or getting shots off, something that was speculated as a potential factor of not having Patrick Kane on the same forward line as Panarin, given Kane’s reputation as one of the NHL’s most creative playmakers and its leading scorer over Panarin’s first two seasons with the Blackhawks. And while Blue Jackets pivot (center) Alexander Wennberg might not have the same creativity as Kane, he ranked 11th in the NHL in assists during the 2016-17 regular season. What it may be stemming from is a simple case of ‘puck luck’ as Panarin’s shooting percentage is currently at 6.8%, less than half of his shooting percentage during his first two seasons, so hopefully a change of fortunes will foster more scoring proclivity, which has recently been the case over the last four games played, in which he has scored three goals and is the leading point-getter for the Blue Jackets, with 15 total points, to date.
As previously mentioned, some veteran players have also yet to get untracked so far this season. Nick Foligno is one of the veterans who has struggled to score so far this season. Foligno has three goals and five assists (eight points) in his first 21 games played and has also struggled to find the net, with a shooting percentage of 7.5%, 40% below his career shooting percentage of 12.1% and less than half of his breakout season of 2014-15, when a blistering 17.1% of his shots found the back of the net. And while that production was unusually prolific, more can be expected of the Blue Jackets’ team captain.
Cam Atkinson, who today signed a $41 million contract over 7 seasons, has also struggled a bit to get untracked, although he was sidelined for a few games with an injury. Atkinson has four goals and three assists (seven points) through 17 games, down from his breakout season as the Blue Jackets’ leading scorer, last season with 35 goals and 62 total points and after increasing or matching – his third and fourth seasons in the NHL – his point totals, each season, during his NHL career.
Two blueline veterans who have struggled so far this season are David Savard and Jack Johnson, who man the Blue Jackets’ second defensive pairing. Both have struggled, both offensively and on the defensive end – Savard is a -1 +/- rating after posting a +33 the prior regular season and Johnson is a -3 after a +23 +/- 2016-17 campaign – and more is expected of both of them.
However, other Blue Jackets’ players are performing as anticipated. Seth Jones and Zack Werenski, the Blue Jackets’ top defensive pairing, have met expectations during their second year on the top pairing. Jones and Werenski have 12 and 11 points, respectively, ranking them second and third in total points scored.
Much is expected of winger Oliver Bjorkstrand and, after a sluggish first month of the season, with two goals and four assists in 12 games, the Danish sniper has started to heat up a bit, with three goals and three assists in nine November contests and hopefully, if Bjorkstrand starts to unleash more shots on goals, his blistering shooting percentage of 17.6% can inject some much-needed offense, thus taking the pressure off of the defense and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
The same expected, projected success can be said of Josh Anderson who, after a holdout during training camp over a contract dispute, has been one of the Blue Jackets’ leading point-getters and its leading goal scorer, with seven goals. The hulking winger brings a combination of size, speed and a physical presence that is invaluable, especially during the Blue Jackets’ playoff push and in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
As for Bobrovsky, his early season numbers nearly mirror his two Vezina (the NHL’s award for its best goaltender) trophy-winning seasons (2014 and 2016-17). Bobrovsky’s Goals Against Average (GAA) is 2.16 and his Save Percentage is a stellar .928, good for second and third, respectively, amongst starting netminders in the NHL.
So, while more is expected of some of the Blue Jackets’ veteran stalwarts to begin to contribute to the already-solid performances of Jones, Werenski, Bobrovsky, Anderson and recently Panarin, not to mention head coach John Tortorella’s desire for his team to play more consistent, complete games, the NHL’s youngest team has had a solid start and is in a prime position to forge their identity and position themselves well for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the spring.