The Columbus Blue Jackets closed out the calendar year with a 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. With the win, the club improved to 46-28-7 in 2018, coincidentally the third consecutive year they’ve won 46 games.
While making the playoffs for a third consecutive year would be a nice feather in the cap for the Blue Jackets, winning a playoff series would truly elevate the franchise to a respectability it has not yet seen.
With New Year's resolutions on the mind for many around the world, allow us to, on behalf of the Blue Jackets, offer our resolutions:
An Average Power Play
Much has been written about the club's insanely bad power play, and it needs to get better for this team to take the next step. In last season's playoff collapse, the Blue Jackets went 0-for-16 (!) on the power play in four straight losses. The Washington Capitals converted on 4-of-14 power plays in the same time frame. Meanwhile, Games 1 and 2 resulted in wins, where Blue Jackets scored on 4-of-8 power plays. Coincidence? Hardly.
John Tortorella is aware of this. On Monday, he had this to say about his team's power play:
"... There's no question our power play sucks. We have found our way through the first half of the year with a very inconsistent power play and have still found ways to win. It's going to bite us in the ass if we don't get some sort of action out of it."
The Blue Jackets enter 2019 with the 30th-ranked power play, only better than the Philadelphia Flyers.
Improved Secondary Scoring
The Blue Jackets' top line of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Artemi Panarin, and Cam Atkinson has been excellent for much of the season, and has single-handedly kept them in games they deserved to lose. After that line, though, and the offensive production goes missing pretty quick.
Nick Foligno (10-10-20) and Josh Anderson (14-4-18) are trending in the right direction and are quality forwards. But this is a team that desperately needs more from its second and third lines. Oliver Bjorkstrand (5-6-11) has been invisible for much of the season, and hasn't taken the step many (raises own hand) thought he would at this point in his NHL career. Anthony Duclair (8-4-12) is a hot-and-cold player. He's scored some big goals this year, and the Blue Jackets will need him to score at a 20-goal clip.
Perhaps it's time we forget about Alexander Wennberg's (1-17-18) 59-point season in 2016-17, as he's posted 53 points in the 105 since that season ended. It's hard to complain about a defensively reliable, smooth-skating center who's tied for fourth on the club with 17 assists, but when you realize that he and Ryan Murray (1-17-18) have identical offensive productions, it does leave one wanting more. Imagine having a 59-point second line center?
Riley Nash (1-3-4) is probably the most obvious candidate for this resolution on the team. Signed as an unrestricted free agent to a three-year deal this offseason, Nash was praised for his ability to move up a talented Boston Bruins lineup. But in 38 games in this season, there's no way the Blue Jackets expected this production.
The 2019 NHL Trade Deadline is on Feb. 25. Mark your calendars now, because it could be one of the most significant dates – for better or worse – in Blue Jackets franchise history.
Are the Blue Jackets prepared to enter March with their two best players – Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky – on expiring contracts? If they trade either or both for future-heavy packages, what other than a white flag does that signal to the locker room (much less paying fans)?
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen surely resolves for some semblance of clarity in 2019. He has the unenviable task of navigating bumpy waters with no clear answers regarding how he should best proceed. If Panarin's camp indicates that the Russian absolutely does not wish to be here after this season, at least Kekalainen can move forward with confidence.
For the Blue Jackets to take the step from playoff participant to playoff series winner, improving or generating any of the above would go a long way towards future success.
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