Despite Inconsistency and a Few Flaws, the Blue Jackets Have Reason To Be Optimistic At Season's Midway Point

By Chris Pennington on January 9, 2019 at 3:01 pm
Sergei Bobrovsky is averaging a 2.87 GAA and has recorded 2 shutouts on the season for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Aaron Doster – USA TODAY Sports

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We are witnessing one of the best starts to a season in Columbus Blue Jackets history.

The Blue Jackets have 51 points which slots them third in the Metropolitan Division, only five points out of a first-place spot. Those 51 points through 42 games trails only the 2016-2017 club for points through that many games.

But boy, it surely doesn't feel that way sometimes, does it?

(Especially after games like last Tuesday in Tampa).

We all know the storylines: The power play is abysmal. Their bottom six and a few iterations of their defense pairings have struggled. And the team seems to go into the fetal position during any sort of perceived "big game," especially at home.

And yet, they are right in the mix for playoff contention, and still have reason to hope and battle for a division title. 

"Up and down like a toilet seat," said head coach John Tortorella ahead of Tuesday night's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning when describing his club at the season's halfway mark. "But, we're right in the middle of things here. 51 points...I give our team credit, find a way."

Some nights, the Blue Jackets look like they are on (if not over) the cusp of being an elite team, and other nights if feels like the Scott Arniel era. 

"Through our inconsistencies, we have found ways to win games," continued Tortorella. "We just try and get better each and every day now."

And Tortorella is right; as the Blue Jackets seek to get on a path of better consistency, they're not going look back and wish they played better in squeaking out wins over the New Jersey Devils or Ottawa Senators. They'll be glad they got the two points when they had the chance.

But in the mess of criticism and stumbling, there is certainly a lot to praise Columbus for at this midway point. Here's three of the biggest we can point to, that if they keep excelling in while also improving in other areas, can make them a dangerous team come April:

Penalty Kill

It hasn't been absolutely amazing, but it surely hasn't been the power play (which is ranked second-to-last in the NHL). Having both of your special teams be horrendous is a recipe for a tanking season, and luckily the Blue Jackets' PK has been strong enough to keep them above water.

Their penalty kill percentage is top-15 in the league, and the team is also allowing some of the fewest penalty minutes per game amongst all teams. Their four short-handed goals on the year are also top-15. Again: not amazing, but definitely solid.

Stars are Shining

The Blue Jackets' best players are playing as they should. Like the best players on the team.

The first line of Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin is one of the top in the league – ranked third in goals for while having a 63.5 GF%. Panarin and Atkinson are both on pace to smash the franchise record for points, and Dubois is increasing his offensive production by about 50 percent from a year ago. He's showing no signs of a sophomore slump, as he's been more of a sophomore sensation. 

On the back end, Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, and Zach Werenski are standing tall. Werenski had a slow start to the season on both ends of the ice, but is coming back into his all-star self. All three defensemen are combining for 68 points on the season, and are all individually in the top-seven of the team in points. That's big time. And don't forget about the increasingly-confident Markus Nutivaara, who has solidified a top-four role.

Bob Is Improving

A few weeks into the season, fans everywhere were calling for Sergei Bobrovsky to be traded as soon as possible. And he responded.

After his first seven games that consisted of a 2-5-0 record and .882 save percentage, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner has come back with a .913 save percentage,16-8-1 record and two shutouts through his past 25 starts. At his best, Bobrovsky is the most valuable player on the Blue Jackets, and keep this streak going during the playoffs would make the team's potential at a deep run be very, very high. 

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