The Columbus Blue Jackets Are On A Heater, And The Cleveland Monsters Have Been A Big Reason Why

By Ed Francis on February 23, 2022 at 10:58 am
Brendan Gaunce has two goals and two assists in his last two games, both Blue Jacket victories.
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe that 12-6-0 start wasn't an anomaly, after all.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been on a February hot streak that actually started in late January. The club has won eight of their last ten games and are scoring goals at a torrid pace.

The Blue Jackets' 46 goals over the last ten games is a franchise high for any ten-game stretch in club history, besting the previous record of 43 in the spring of 2018. The 4.60 goals per game since January 27th is second in the NHL during that time stretch, trailing Thursday's opponent, the Florida Panthers, by just 0.03.

There's no shortage of reasons behind Columbus' winning ways as of late, and while Patrik Laine's incredible tear may be the main reason, there's another cause behind the string of victories: the Cleveland Monsters.

It started with injuries. First, Alexandre Texier went down. One week later, Eric Robinson went to the injured reserve list with an injury that, like Texier's, would put him out for at least a month. 

Less than a week after that, Emil Bemstrom went into what can simply be called as "the protocol" at this point. Combined with Justin Danforth still sidelined at that point, and the Blue Jackets were down more than an entire line of forwards.

Enter: Cleveland.

Trey Fix-Wolansky, who scored a goal in his first NHL game at a crucial juncture — in the third period of a tie game against the Washington Capitals. The Blue Jackets gave the lead up in the final three minutes, so Fix-Wolansky didn't get credit for the game-winner in his debut — that went to Boone Jenner, who put Columbus ahead for good in the minute of regulation. 

Two nights later, Fix-Wolansky would pick up the first assist of his career in a game against the Buffalo Sabres that the Blue Jackets would win by a single goal. 

It was in that game that Brendan Gaunce would score his first goal with the Blue Jackets. Gaunce, who was the leading scorer for the Monsters before his call up, cut a two-goal Sabre lead in half when he scored in the third period. Oliver Bjorkstrand would later tie the game, and Jakub Voracek would complete the comeback in the opening seconds of overtime. 

That wouldn't be the last time the Blue Jackets would stage a come-from-behind win during this streak. They did it again in Tuesday's win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The win was Columbus' 7th of the season when they trailed heading into the final period — a number that leads the entire NHL.

That wasn't the only thing that happened again in Tuesday's victory — Gaunce scored again, too. The third period goal that temporarily gave the Jackets a lead was his third goal with Columbus. In seven games, Gaunce has three goals, two assists, and five points — despite averaging just 7:42 of ice time per game and not hitting 10:00 in a single game.

And then there's Jean-Francois Berube; the second Jean-Francois to tend goal for the Blue Jackets. His second win in as many games puts him one win behind the other J.F. — Labbe — and that J.F. had 14 games under his belt. He was called up on an emergency basis over the weekend when both Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo were down with injuries. 

Berube has 72 saves on 78 shots in two starts, for a save percentage of .923. He's got a goals against of 2.99, and both of his starts have resulted in Berube hearing his name called as one of the Three Stars of the Game.

With Korpisalo likely on the way out before he's an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Berube has made a strong case for making a jump from Cleveland to Columbus for the remainder of the season as the backup to Merzlikins. 

There are shades of the 2019-20 team in the recent streak; the "next man up" mentality has lead to exciting hockey and quality wins. That team would ride the Monsters' high to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and an opening-round win over, ironically, the Maple Leafs.

Wouldn't it be something if this team did the same?