Forest Through The Trees: It's Easy To Overlook, And Often Times Outright Miss, But Are Blue Jackets Showing Signs Of Progress?

By Will Chase on February 14, 2024 at 10:15 am
Ottawa Senators' Anton Forsberg makes a save on a shot from Columbus Blue Jackets' Boone Jenner in the third period at the Canadian Tire Centre.
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

We've been hearing some variation for a while now that the Columbus Blue Jackets are starting to play the right way.

When you watch every game and as the losses pile up, it's easy to get lost in the minutia of it all. If an outsider couldn't see the forest through the trees, they'd be excused.

There's been lots of noise this season. From reports of players requesting trades to national media talking about the latest Blue Jackets storyline, typically of the negative variety, to the healthy scratches and anything else you can think of.

More than halfway through the season, I still don't know what to make of head coach Pascal Vincent. His roster is among the youngest in the league and clearly needs work. Some of that will come through normal progression as rookies and young players continue to gain experience. Some veterans could be moved.

Vincent is the anti-Brad Larsen in that Vincent is preaching and practicing accountability and trying to bring that edge back to the Jackets. There probably won't be anyone confusing this year's club for being too loosey-goosey.

There have been positive narratives this season. As one would have projected, Adam Fantilli has looked great. Catching a bad break with a calf laceration, Fantilli is among the team leaders with 12 goals. Dmitri Voronkov has 13 goals and is currently two off the rookie lead. Connor Bedard is expected to return for the Chicago Blackhawks from a fractured jaw next week.

Boone Jenner missed 15 games with a fractured jaw of his own and leads the team with 16 goals. He has three goals in the last two games, and his name has surfaced in possible trade deadline scenarios. We wrote about him and the value he brings to the ice last week.

In Aaron Portzline's article in The Athletic on Sunday, Jenner expressed his desire to remain in Columbus.

"I want our group to become a successful team, to make the playoffs and be relevant, get ourselves back on the map as a team," Jenner said. "I know we have it in here, and we’re going through the process right now.

"I want to be a part of that and what we can become on the other side. We have a lot of work to be done. We have a long way to go, I know that, but we can get there. And I want to be part of that."

Jenner has a cap hit of $3.75 million through 2025-26 and he has a modified, eight-team, no-trade clause.

The Blue Jackets captain is the perfect player any Stanley Cup contender would love to have based on his grit, goal-scoring attributes, and his contract. He can play center or wing. But if Jenner has it his way, he's not going anywhere.

In Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jenner scored twice in 3:28 in the third period, and the Blue Jackets had chances to tie the game before the Lightning scored on the empty net. That third period signified some of that gritty resilience the team has shown they are capable of doing.

In Tuesday's 5-3 loss at the Ottawa Senators, Jenner had another goal, and Columbus had the game within one goal, 4-3, after trailing 4-1, before Ottawa added the insurance markers.

Neither game was pretty but there were signs of tipping the scales the other way.

"We're feeling it right now, and it's a good sign," Alexandre Texier said before Tuesday's game. "Especially with a lot of young guys. We're building something and we're having a lot of fun on the ice and off the ice, which is good. Results will come at some point if we keep going that way. But we just go one game at a time and we'll see what happens."

At 16-26-10, the Blue Jackets are playing out the string but are still looking for complete, 60-minute efforts. The penalty kill has struggled (27th, 76.2%), the power play isn't great (28th, 14.7%), the defense needs work (31st, 3.72 GA/GP), and they're averaging just under three goals a game (24th, 2.90 GF/GP).

But it sounds like there are those inside the walls of the locker room that are buying in and committed to the club, today and tomorrow.

That's a start, right?

The four-game road trip continues onto San Jose where they battle the Sharks on Saturday, Feb. 17, at 10:30 p.m. ET.

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