On October 23, the Columbus Blue Jackets were 3-3 and looked like the team most of us expected: a ragtag, mediocre group of hockey players. The hit-or-miss first six games seemed to indicate that the team would remain in the mucky middle of the Western Conference, at best.
Beginning with a 3-2 win against the defending champion Blackhawks in Chicago, the Blue Jackets have quietly put together a 10-3 run that places them among the absolute best in the NHL. (Not to say that their work is done by any means, they still trail the Detroit Red Wings for the Central Division lead, so they’d be the fourth seed if the playoffs began today.)
In honor of the team’s underrated run to the upper echelon of the league at the quarter mark, I thought I would break down some of the interesting trends, numbers and other tidbits from their 10-3 jaunt.
- Four of the Blue Jackets’ 10 wins in that span came via shutouts, with backup Mathieu Garon earning the first three and franchise netminder Steve Mason earning the last one against the Nashville Predators. Oddly enough, the shutouts came in two pairs of consecutive goose eggs.
- The Blue Jackets outscored their opponents by a score of 39-21 in those 13 games. Ten of the goals they allowed came in two losses to the Colorado Avalanche, the only team to beat them by more than one goal in this span. (Minnesota narrowly beat them 3-2 for their only other defeat.)
- As expected, Rick Nash has been the lightning rod for their offense. He has 10 goals and four assists for 14 points in their hot run, with nine of those goals (and one assist) coming in the last six games.
- Both of their goalies have been fabulous for the most part. Garon is 4-1 with three shutouts in six appearances, with only five goals allowed. Mason hasn’t been that efficient, but is still on a great pace lately. He is 7-2 with one shutout and 19 goals allowed. Overall, Mason’s season total is only 8-5 so it’s obvious the young goalie is heating up along with his team right now.
- Purists will approve of their hot streak, too. They only needed one shootout victory in their 10 wins. Half of their victories came by only a goal while the other five were more one-sided. This indicates that the Blue Jackets can win close games but they can also protect leads.
- It’s not exactly as if Columbus is exploiting a cream puff schedule, either. They beat both of the 2010 Stanley Cup finalists, an elite team in Montreal, a tough team in St. Louis and then stopped a few hot teams cold. Perhaps the most impressive work came on their recent California road trip in which they curbed the red-hot Kings, the tough at home Ducks and the struggling but supremely talented Sharks.
- While the Blue Jackets’ overall home record is a bit discouraging (6-5-0), they are beginning to get more comfortable in Columbus. Then again, they might want to just repeat their road rituals, because they’re 7-1 in away games in 2010-11.
It’s clearly too early to name Columbus a genuine contender, but they’ve forced their way into the discussion of elite teams in the NHL. If they keep this up, they could easily achieve their best season in franchise history and might just earn new coach Scott Arniel some serious Jack Adams award consideration.
After playing the lowly New York Islanders tomorrow, the team might face their biggest test of the season: a home-and-home pair against division leading Detroit. If they can come out on top after those two games, it might officially be time to take the Blue Jackets seriously.
Although, judging from this sturdy streak, it might already be time to do just that.
The San Jose Sharks can make franchise history on home ice tonight against the St. Louis Blues. Win, and the Sharks clinch their first ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Lose, and it’s back to St. Louis for a deciding Game 7 in the Western Conference Final.
You can catch tonight’s Game 6 on NBCSN (9 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE
Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:
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Valeri Nichushkin has the tools — listed at six-foot-four-inches tall and 205 pounds with devastating speed. He has the skill.
However, now at the end of his entry-level contract, the 10th overall draft pick for the Dallas Stars in 2013 has endured the highs and lows associated with a young player trying to make his mark in the National Hockey League after a promising rookie campaign.
For starters, his sophomore 2014-15 season was essentially wiped out — he played only eight games for the Stars — by a hip injury that required surgery. He also didn’t get off to the greatest start this season, and coming back from surgery likely played a factor as to why, as he found his way into Lindy Ruff’s doghouse early on.
As a result, was made a healthy scratch.
His bottom line offensive numbers included nine goals and 29 points in 79 games played, and one assist in 10 playoff games for the Stars, as they were eliminated in the second round.
Still, he’s just 21 years old. When playing with top players like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, he was able to get on a bit of a roll offensively.
Stars GM Jim Nill, speaking on SiriusXMNHL, referenced the difficulty for a young player coming back off surgery, but remains confident in Nichushkin.
“We’re happy with Val,” he said (at around the 5:30 mark).
“Came back this year, got off to a slow start because of that. We thought the last five games of the playoffs, he really started to look like himself. He started to dominate down low and in the corners.
“He is only 21. I know there’s still lots of room for growth, so we’re going to be patient with him. We think he’s a big part of our future.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes have hired Anaheim Ducks executive Ari Segal as chief operating officer.
The move was announced by the team on Wednesday.
Segal previously served as a special assistant to Anaheim CEO Michael Schulman and as president of business operations for the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego.
Segal helped with preparations for the new AHL club and recently worked with the NHL in the league’s broadcast media strategy group, evaluating league and team broadcast rights and distribution deals.
Segal previously worked as an associate in the sports practice at McKinsey & Company, a New York-based management consulting firm.
Related: The Coyotes are going in a ‘new direction,’ and that’s an understatement
Columbus farmhand Lukas Sedlak, who currently sits tied atop AHL Lake Erie’s playoff scoring leaderboard, has signed a one-year, two-way deal, the Jackets announced on Wednesday.
Sedlak, 23, was a fifth-round pick in 2011 that’s spent the last three years in the American League. This season was by far his most successful — in addition to potting a career-best 14 goals, he’s become close to a point-a-game producer in the playoffs, with 11 through 12 games.
“Sedlak has been on a run for us with goal-scoring,” Lake Erie head coach Jared Bednar said, per the Columbus Dispatch. “He’s not a guy who does it for us every night. But he works so hard in all the other areas.”
Sedlak has yet to make his NHL debut, but could be in the mix for a recall next season.