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Taking a look at the Columbus Blue Jackets’ impressive month

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.

Pre-game reading: On the Isles and John Tavares

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— Up top, that time John Scott was named MVP of the All-Star Game. The big man announced his retirement today.

— New York Post writer Brett Cyrgalis believes the Islanders must do a better job of surrounding John Tavares with talent. Otherwise, Tavares might decide to leave. The Isles are certainly going to be an interesting team to watch. There’s all sorts of speculation that the new ownership group wants to bolster the front office, with former Canucks executives Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman hearing their names floated as potential hires. Tavares can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, and just like Steven Stamkos not too long ago, other markets already have their eyes on him. (New York Post)

— Speaking of the Canucks, GM Jim Benning will not be approaching any of his players about waiving their no-trade clauses. That includes Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, and Alex Edler, three veterans who could theoretically be dealt to help a rebuild. “These are the guys we want to keep and build our young players around,” said Benning, who’s said similar things in the past. (The Province)

— Elliotte Friedman’s latest “30 Thoughts” includes a prediction that the NHL will be in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, but it remains to be seen about the 2018 Games in South Korea. “For the first time, I’m not so sure. The NHL does not like the IOC and the owners don’t like the toll this season’s compressed schedule is taking on the players.” Which begs a pretty good question — If the NHL skips out in 2018, will the IOC even allow NHLers back in 2022? (Sportsnet)

— ESPN columnist Scott Burnside thinks the NHL should take a pass on the 2018 Games. “When we talk about the Olympics in terms of growing the game, what game are we talking about growing? The NHL game and the Olympic one are sometimes mutually exclusive. Forget the time difference and the difficulties of scheduling Olympic games during North American prime time. The more important question — and ultimate incentive for owners — is: Did the Olympic games in Japan, Italy and Russia do anything to promote the NHL game globally? The answer is pretty simple: No.” (ESPN)

— Good news about Craig Cunningham, who’s been speaking with his Tucson Roadrunners teammates via FaceTime. “It was nice to see him smile. He was cracking jokes just as if he were here the next day. It was pretty funny. He said he wanted us to come pick him up and take him to the rink. He was joking around. Stuff like that.” (KVOA)

Enjoy the games!

Goal-starved ‘Canes need to get to the net

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Toby Enstrom #39 and Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets follow the puck as Jordan Staal #11 of the Carolina Hurricanes screens Hellebuyck during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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The statistics say the Carolina Hurricanes are one of the top puck-possession teams in hockey.

But unlike most teams who fare well in the Corsi and Fenwick departments, the ‘Canes still lose more games than they win.

In the past, much of the blame for their struggles has been piled on Cam Ward and Eddie Lack, the two goalies. But Ward has actually been much better this season. The veteran netminder has a .924 save percentage over his 19 starts. He just hasn’t received much in the way of goal support, which explains his modest 9-7-4 record.

In fact, in Ward’s last five starts, he’s allowed just eight goals combined. The ‘Canes only won one of those games, a 1-0 overtime triumph Sunday against Tampa Bay.

   Read more: The curious case of the Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina (10-10-5) starts a three-game California road trip tonight in Anaheim.

“Our focus is on scoring,” coach Bill Peters said, per NHL.com. “It’s the ability to get on the board. I’d love to get on the board early. … It’s about the urgency to score, what you have to do to score. I want to see more guys in the blue paint. I want to see guys making it harder on the goaltender. If we do that, we’ll be successful.”

It remains to be seen if they have the personnel to score more dirty goals. At the moment, they’re without Jordan Staal (concussion), and that’s a significant loss. Up front, the ‘Canes just aren’t a very heavy team. Their top point-producers are speedy and skilled — Jeff SkinnerVictor RaskSebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen — but Staal is the biggest and most physical of the bunch.

“To generate more offense and score more goals, we’ve got to be able to work our way inside and make it tough on them,” said defenseman Justin Faulk.

However they do it, they need to find a way. Because the ‘Canes have been slipping in the standings. They’re now six points back of a wild-card spot, tied with the Islanders and Leafs for the fewest points in the Eastern Conference.

Via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, here are the 10 goalies who have received the least amount of goal support this season:

goal-support

Sens clear MacArthur for contact, a big step in concussion recovery

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 26:  Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators looks on prior to a face-off in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Canadian Tire Centre on April 26, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens eliminated the Ottawa Senators by defeating them 2-0 and move to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Some great news out of Ottawa on Wednesday — Clarke MacArthur, who’s missed the entire season while recovering from a concussion suffered in training camp, has been cleared for contact in practice, per TSN 1200.

“Every day he looks better and better,” head coach Guy Boucher said. “He looks so good out there, and he’s looked good for a while now.

“We are definitely going in the right direction. You can see it in his demeanor, you can see it on the ice. He’s doing all the difficult exercises and pushing the body to the max, and now he’s allowed to do bodychecks in practices.”

MacArthur, who missed 70 games last year to a concussion, was on the receiving end of an ugly hit from teammate Patrick Sieloff during a late September practice at training camp.

The incident made waves across the league as Bobby Ryan jumped Sieloff following the hit (Chris Neil was also seeking retribution, before the Sens removed Sieloff from practice).

When healthy, MacArthur plays a key role for the Sens. He had two pretty productive campaigns for Ottawa in ’13-14 (scoring a career-high 24 goals) and ’14-15 (36 points in just 62 games played), part of the reason why the club gave him a five-year, $23.25 million extension two summers ago.

Not long after this latest concussion, MacArthur said he had no intention of retiring. Various outlets report he’s aiming for a return to the Sens lineup in January.

Goalie nods: Jones heating up, will start again for Sharks

Martin Jones, Brent Burns
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Martin Jones has rediscovered the form he showed this past spring.

Jones, who was arguably the Sharks’ MVP through their Stanley Cup Final run, will look to win his fourth straight start when when San Jose hosts Ottawa this evening.

It’s been a banner past couple of weeks for the 26-year-old. Things started with a 26-save shutout against New Jersey on Nov. 21 — from there, Jones won three of his next four starts, allowing just six goals over that span, to finish the month of November with a .924 save percentage.

On Friday, he kicked off Decmeber in similar style, making 31 saves in a tight 2-1 win over the Canadiens.

It’s a nice turnaround from the beginning of the season, when Jones was OK — but not great — and finished October at 4-3-0 with a .916 save percentage. Given how vital he is to the club’s success, it’s no coincidence San Jose has played well of late. The Sharks are 6-1 in their last seven and within one point of first-place Edmonton in the Pacific Division (the Sharks do have three games in hand, and could surpass the Oilers this evening).

For the Sens, Mike Condon gets the start in goal. Craig Anderson didn’t make the trip with Ottawa out west.

Elsewhere…

Devan Dubnyk makes career start No. 300 when the Wild take on the Leafs in Toronto. He’ll be up against Frederik Andersen, who projects to get a ton of work moving forward, given ex-backup Jhonas Enroth is now with the AHL Marlies.

— Tantalizing matchup brewing in Washington, as Braden Holtby and the Caps host Boston. Tuukka Rask, who has been busy lately, projects to get the nod as he was in the starter’s crease at the morning skate.

— The ‘Canes continue to roll with Cam Ward as they begin their three-game California trip in Anaheim. The Ducks will counter with John Gibson, after Jonathan Bernier was in for all eight goals in Sunday’s ugly loss to Calgary.