Three Up, Three Down: Which Players Are Stepping Up (Or Falling Down) As February Winds Down

By Ed Francis on February 24, 2021 at 10:15 am
 Columbus Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine has brought a special touch to an improving power play.
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Just like that, the Columbus Blue Jackets are through 20 games of the 56-game sprint that is the 2020-21 NHL season.

And while the Blue Jackets have only seven regulation losses in those first 20 games, their overtime troubles and inability to play consistent, sound defense (a supposed staple of the team heading into the season) have yielded them just eight wins in that span, en route to an 8-7-5 record. (Yes, that leads the league in the OTL category.)

So which Blue Jackets have kept the Blue Jackets afloat so far this season, and which ones have been the holes in the boat? Here are three players doing well as of late, and three who need to pick it up:


#3: Seth Jones

In 10 games during the month of January, Jones had one point (an assist) and a -8 plus/minus. Not good, and he didn't look like his typical, Norris-contending self. In his ten games in February, though? He's been a point-a-game player: one goal and nine assists. He's also kept his plus/minus even during that span, despite having his blue line partners bounced around a bit due to injuries. One other thing: Perhaps no player has benefitted in an under-the-radar way from the acquisitions of Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic than Jones. Seven of those 10 February points have involved Laine or Roslovic, and all five power play points from Jones have been on assists from or assists to Laine or Roslovic. 

#2: Cam Atkinson

He leads the team in goals (8), is tied for the team lead in points (16), and got hot at exactly the right time. Six of Atkinson's goals have come in the last seven games, including a streak of five straight games with a goal that ended Saturday against Nashville. He bounced right back though, picking up a goal and an assist in Tuesday's shootout loss to the Blackhawks. As Atkinson goes, so go the Jackets: They are 4-1-3 in the eight games where he's picked up a goal. 

#1: Patrik Laine

Following that awkward benching against Carolina on February 8th, Laine has points in five of six games - including two absolutely wicked power play rips in Tuesday's shootout loss to Chicago. In a matter of just a few games, Blue Jacket fans know exactly where to look to find Laine when the opposition has a man in the box. Exciting, to say the least, and Laine is proving that yes, one man can change an entire power play. The Blue Jackets were 3-of-26 (11%) on the power play before Laine's debut. They are 7-of-24 (29%) since. Excellent. 


#3: Alexandre Texier

Texier scored in the second, third, and fourth games of the season. It looked like the 21-year-old was poised for a breakout season. His fourth goal of the year would come in the Blue Jackets 7th game of the season. Since then, he's went scoreless in 13 straight games - 193 minutes, 20 seconds of ice time. He's had just two assists during that span, and winning draws continue to be a problem for the young center; his 35% win rate on faceoffs during the 13 game cold spell is right on par with his 34% season average. He's bounced shuffled a bit, and consistency would certainly help, but the Blue Jackets need Texier to get back to his first-week-of-the-season self.

#2: Joonas Korpisalo

It's not entirely his fault and in reality, may not even be mostly his fault, but Korpisalo is not having near the season that he was a year ago. Korpi's .889 save percentage is a career low, and his 3.46 goals against average is a career high. While a poor defense is certainly doing him no favors, elite goalies find a way to bail out a bad defense at least some of the time - something Korpi hasn't really done this season. Just 38% of his 13 starts have qualified as "quality" starts, via The Hockey Abstract. That's way off last years 60% quality start rate for Korpisalo, and something he must improve on - especially given the Elvis Merzlikins injury

#1: David Savard

Gone are the days that Savard could fetch a reliable NHL player in a trade, despite my pushing for such a trade during the offseason. Even still, Savard falling off a cliff like this was not anticipated. 

Savard has been somewhere between below average and bad this year, and what may be the worst year of his career is coming at exactly the wrong time for the franchise. Priding themselves on defense, with the big-bearded, 6'2", 230lb defenseman anchoring the second pairing, the Blue Jackets are instead giving up goals in bunches: three or more goals in nine of their last 11 games, and five or more goals four times in their last eight games. To his credit, Savard has been shuffled around a bit due to blue line injuries, but despite their worst defensive depth in several seasons, Savard is seeing an average of 19:21 per game on the ice - the lowest TOI since 2013-14, his first full season in the league. His -5 is on pace for a career-worst in the plus/minus department, and his CF% (Corsi-For Percentage at even strength) is at just 43.9%, meaning that when he's on the ice, the opposing team controls the puck just over 56% of the time. This is his lowest ranking of any mid or full seasons played by far - even his previous seasonal low (last season) was at 46.5%. Savard is struggling, and it's impacting more than just his game.