For The Budding Columbus Blue Jackets, Learning Resiliency Now Could Soon Pay Hefty Dividends

By Ed Francis on November 16, 2021 at 10:15 am
Yegor Chinakhov has looked beyond his years in his first month as an NHL'er.
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

With eight wins in their first 13 games, it's fair to say that this Columbus Blue Jackets team is exceeding expectations.

And that's great, sure.

But it's how they're winning now that has the potential to ensure a future brighter than Columbus has ever seen in the NHL.

So far this season, the Blue Jackets are 6-2-0 in games that were tied in the third period. In four of those wins, including Monday's phenomenal comeback against the Detroit Red Wings, Columbus was trailing in the third period, and in three of those games, the Blue Jackets were behind with less than seven minutes left regulation. 

All three of those eventual victories were against teams with a winning record.

Compared to last season, it becomes obvious just how different this team is late in games compared to the 2020-21 version of the Blue Jackets. Of the 56 games last season, the Blue Jackets were tied in the third period in 32 of them. They won just ten of those, finishing with a record of 10-10-12 in those games.

Zach Werenski, who had the game-winning goal with less than two minutes left Monday after rookie Yegor Chinakhov tied it for his first career goal, spoke on the attitude of the bench prior to Chinakhov's goal.

“For us, it’s belief in the room that we are going to find ways to win. That's what we've been doing," said Werenski. “When (Detroit) took the lead, nobody panicked. If we stick to our game plan we are going to win.”

Having the confidence to score is one thing, but having the ability to do it is another. 

This Blue Jackets team appears to have that. Rookies Cole Sillinger and Chinakhov, neither of which are old enough to purchase alcohol, have looked more than comfortable on the top line they formed with veteran Jakub Voracek following the injury to Patrik Laine. It's not that Columbus doesn't have other options to play the top line - veterans like Gustav Nyquist and Boone Jenner, not to mention Oliver Bjorkstrand, are certainly capable. But the kids have earned it, have flourished in the role, and continue to show improvement on what seems like a shift-by-shift basis.

The trade for Voracek has been more than worth it. The oldest player on the roster, he scored his first goal of the season in the recent homestand, but leads the team with a dozen assists. That's tied for 9th in the league, but Voracek has played in less games than everyone above him, and averages at least two fewer minutes of ice time per game. When the dust settles, the 32-year-old is averaging 3.21 assists per 60 minutes, behind only Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (3.50) and Connor McDavid (3.24).

His addition gave the Blue Jackets a much-needed playmaker, and the results can't be denied. Just twice in their franchise history have the Blue Jackets finished the season averaging more than three goals per game, most recently when they averaged 3.12 goals per game in the 2018-19 season. 

This season? A lofty 3.23 goals per game, which is good enough for 9th in the league and ahead of teams such as the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Those are three of the best offenses in the league, and Columbus is outperforming all them.

Winning must be learned, especially in the NHL. The youth movement still has work to do, but if this season has proven nothing else thus far, it's that this team is full of quick learners.