Hello again, friends.
The Blue Jackets are hot. They've won 12 of 13 and are closing in on a playoff berth for the second consecutive season – uncharted territory for the franchise. We've gathered our staff to discuss expectations, lineups, and potential first-round opponents. Let's dive in.
What is your ideal lineup if the Blue Jackets make the playoffs?
Rob Mixer: I think we’ve seen recently what “ideal” means for the Blue Jackets, and it’s speed and skill. That means we’ll probably see guys like Brandon Dubinsky and Jack Johnson on the outside looking in, especially once Josh Anderson returns from injury and if the young defensemen continue playing as well as they are. It’s a tough situation, especially for two established players, but the Blue Jackets are a more dangerous team with four balanced lines and three defense pairs that drive possession.
Sam Blazer: With what they currently have on their roster, I would only add Josh Anderson into it and I would let it be from there. There isn't anything to really tinker with and everyone is at the top of their game. The team is peaking at the right time and with the players in the lineup, it's no wonder why.
Dan Dukart: This team has won 10 straight without their leading goal scorer from most of the year (Josh Anderson). He’ll clearly slot back in, but chemistry is a tricky thing. If we’re talking about a lineup, my ideal lineup is: (1) Panarin, Dubois, Atkinson; (2) Milano, Foligno, Bjorkstrand; (3) Jenner, Wennberg, Vanek; and (4) Dubinsky, Letestu, Anderson, which leaves Sedlak and Calvert on the outside looking in, but this assumes perfect health (not going to happen). Then on defense: (1) Werenski-Jones, (2) Cole-Savard, (3) Nutivaara-Murray.
Paul Berthelot: They are pretty close to the ideal lineup right now. The defense pairs without Jack Johnson have been, in my opinion, the best group this team has used all season. Up front when Anderson returns I think you take out Dubinsky and Sedlak and have a fourth line of Calvert-Letestu-Anderson. Calvert brings to much to the table shorthanded, wouldn’t want to lose that come playoff time.
Who would you like to see the Blue Jackets facing in the playoffs? Is there a team that they should avoid?
PB: I’m still hyped from that first game post-deadline, so let’s play Washington. The Caps with Ovi will always have the top-end talent, but the Jackets look like a much deeper team, especially on defense. Washington is a poor possession team and the Jackets can control the puck and keep it away from the elite talent Washington has. If not Washington then bring on Pittsburgh again. This reminds me a bit of Vancouver of 2011; they continually lost to Chicago but were finally able to break through in 2011. The Jackets could do the same against the Penguins.
DD: Honestly, I don’t care who they play. Part of me wants them to play Pittsburgh just because of what it would mean if this team got their first ever playoff series victory over the two-time defending champs. I mean, can you imagine the momentum they’d have garnered? Tampa is stacked up and down the lineup, but even they’ve shown some kinks in the armor the past two months. Washington is Washington, and even with all of that talent, a Game 1 road win in D.C. could spell doom for them. Philadelphia’s last good goalie was a young prospect named Sergei Bobrovsky, and before that, Ron Hextall. I wouldn’t mind seeing them, but it’s a long shot.
RM: Probably an unpopular opinion, but let’s see them take on Pittsburgh again. Why the hell not? Eventually they have to slay this beast and I think this year’s team is better equipped to do so. They’re faster and deeper and Sergei Bobrovsky is peaking in March, not December. I think, in terms of a team(s) to avoid, Tampa or Boston come to mind.
SB: While Rob wants the Blue Jackets to take on Pittsburgh again, I'd rather avoid them. I can't deal with another series where Yinzers are in my Twitter mentions talking crap to me. I would rather face a team from the District of Columbia or possibly from New England. Keep the bad vibes from western Pennsylvania away from me.
Should a player’s past playoff performance matter when selecting the ideal lineup?
DD: I think one could write a thesis on this question, just because it’s so nuanced and case-by-case. But if I had to sum this up quick, I’d say no. Coaches are paid to play the best lineup at that moment, not what happened in the playoffs five years ago. But it’s a slippery slope. Players are – fairly or not – judged by what they accomplished (or didn’t) in the postseason. But I think current performance trump's past performance until the player gives the coaching staff an opportunity to be proven wrong.
RM: I don’t think so. If that were the case, could you argue that Sergei Bobrovsky not be the No. 1 goaltender? That’s probably on the extreme side, but the lineup decisions should (and probably will) be based on who’s playing well entering the postseason. An example: if the Blue Jackets are at full strength, I can’t see Brandon Dubinsky getting into the lineup just because he scored a big goal four years ago.
SB: This feels directly aimed at "Playoff" Jack Johnson. He has been an animal in the playoffs in the past but has been a scratch as of late. You should go with your ideal lineup, there shouldn't be any exceptions to this. There isn't any need to overthink this.
PB: No. Just because you had a good run a few years ago doesn’t mean you will be good now. The playoffs are small sample to begin with, and even smaller when talking about this organization. I think the full season body of work should carry much more weight than a couple short playoff series.
Is there such thing as being too hot before going into the playoffs? Are the Blue Jackets peaking too soon?
PB: I would say no, because if they didn’t peak right now, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. There is a chance they wouldn’t be in the playoffs if not for this streak. I think you want your team to be in this position. They have been playing in high pressure games for a month now. Hopefully the playoffs won't be as big as a shock to them this season.
SB: I don't think that there is any possibility that you can go into the playoffs "too hot." I think you can go in too cold, but too hot is not an issue. The Blue Jackets aren't peaking too soon, they're peaking at just the right time. They'll be a team to watch for in April.
DD: Yes, and it’s unfortunately what happened to the club a season ago. But this year, barring something completely unforeseen, the team should be hitting their stride at the right time. If they go 4-3-0 the rest of the way, can you really argue that going 14-5-0 in their last 19 games was a bad thing?
RM: There’s something to be said for that, and I think they did last season. But this year feels different; it’s not as if they’re “peaking” right now in my mind, they’re hitting their stride and finding their game (and happen to be winning a lot of games in the process).