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.
When the adrenaline wears off after a big hit or violent fight, fans will want to see results on the scoreboard and in the standings. It remains to be seen if the Oilers truly made strides in that regard during a summer of change.
On the bright side, their wunderkind star and expensive new addition are at least on the same page.
Report: Las Vegas NHL team asked permission to speak with Capitals assistant GM
Ross Mahoney was hired by McPhee to be the director of amateur scouting for the Caps which he did for 16 seasons before becoming assistant general manager. If you thought the team drafted well during McPhee’s tenure, Mahoney is a major reason why.
The Caps are in a tricky position here. Denying employees the chance to seek other opportunities looks bad, but then again the Capitals don’t want to see their entire office raided by Vegas.
There has always seemed to be a connection between hockey players and the game of golf. Some are better than others when it comes to the links.
Take NHL referee Garrett Rank, for example.
Rank, also an amateur golfer, has made the cut at the 2016 Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club just south of Toronto. He’s currently tied for 36th at even par heading into the weekend. He also sits seven shots behind the leader, Dustin Johnson, the future son-in-law of The Great One, Wayne Gretzky.
Rank, who joined the NHL Officials Association in 2014, has split his time between officiating in the NHL and the American Hockey League. But, according to the PGA Tour website, he was hired as a full-time NHL ref the day before the opening round of this week’s Canadian Open.
“I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t take my clubs with me when I was on the road,” he told the PGA Tour website. “I think it helps me and makes it a little easier for me because I know that this isn’t the end of the world, whether I shot 65 or 75.”
“When I got the news I tried to maintain a positive attitude,” he told the Toronto Sun. “And you know what, it’s kind of a blessing in disguise. You never want to have cancer wished upon someone but I think it gave me a little better outlook in terms of a bad call on the ice wasn’t as bad. Or hitting a bad shot on the golf course wasn’t the end of the world.
“It has allowed me to stay patient and be grateful for the opportunities and things I have in life.”