Columbus Blue Jackets v Phoenix Coyotes

Have you noticed? Columbus is playing pretty well


Let’s show a little love for the Blue Jackets.

After a dismal start to the season, the BJs have turned it on by winning six of their last nine, moving within two points of Carolina for the third and final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.

But the real story is how Columbus has done it.

The Jackets are winning games without four of their highest-paid and most important players: Marian Gaborik (out since Nov. 14 with a knee injury), Sergei Bobrovsky (out since Dec. 4 with a groin ailment), James Wisniewski (out since Dec. 6 with an upper-body injury) and Nathan Horton (missed the entire season recovering from shoulder surgery).

That quartet represents the club’s top sniper, a Vezina-winning goalie, a top-four defenseman and a prized free agent power forward — big losses for a team light on talent.

Yet the Jackets have made it work.

They’ve recorded quality wins over this 6-3-0 stretch — a 6-0 drubbing of the Leafs in Toronto, back-to-back shutout wins over Tampa Bay and Minnesota — and have played well in their losses, dropping a tough 3-1 decision in Boston and a 2-1 defeat in Pittsburgh.

The most startling thing, though, is how Columbus has coped with its goaltending situation.

When Bobrovsky went down, the Jackets turned the No. 1 gig over to career journeyman Curtis McElhinney, a former Calgary draftee that spent time in Anaheim, Ottawa and Phoenix before joining Columbus last season (spending all of last year in AHL Springfield.) He won three of his first four starts in relief of Bobrovsky, including a 20-save shutout of the Wild.

But on Thursday, McElhinney was injured during the first period of a 4-2 win in New York… forcing Columbus to put in third-stringer Mike McKenna, who was playing his first NHL contest in three years.

Undeterred, McKenna stopped 17 of 18 shots the Rangers threw his way. That raised the spirits of head coach Todd Richards, who praised his players for a “great win.”

“It’s starting to get to that point where I think the confidence is growing in the group,” Richards told the Columbus Dispatch. “And the confidence the coaching staff has in the group is starting to grow.

“We’re starting to see more good things throughout a 60-minute game.”

Kane scores OT-winner, caps Islanders’ bumpy start in Brooklyn

Patrick Kane

On paper, it’s the perfect way to kick off meaningful hockey in Brooklyn, as the New York Islanders faced the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks on Friday.

In reality, there were some highs and lows, culminating with Patrick Kane scoring a power-play overtime-winner to give Chicago a 3-2 (OT) win.

The Barclays Center crowd was going to be a big part of the story one way or another, but even by building-opening standards, the audience made some waves.

Indeed, Kane was greeted with some jeers during his first road appearance of the 2015-16 season, though he didn’t sound surprised.

(There were other controversial chants, apparently.)

Speaking of the crowd, it may not have been the greatest turnout:

ESPN goes way, way in depth on how the change of locale was received, by the way.

It wasn’t a perfect night inside the rink, either, as there weren’t exactly rave reviews about ice quality. New York Newsday’s Arthur Staple compared the ice to a “slushy” and “soup,” with an anonymous Islander (or Islanders) describing the conditions as “awful.”

Kane was pretty diplomatic about it, for what it’s worth.


So, no, it was not a perfect night for the Islanders.

They probably envisioned a teeming, perfectly mannered crowd. Management likely expected Jaroslav Halak to be in net, too.

Sometimes breaking ground is often about overcoming those early stumbles, though, and maybe the best review is to parallel the on-ice results: the Isles at least got a point out of it.

Let’s not forget that there are some cool perks that come with this situation, even if the specifics may vary.

If you want even more information/photos/etc., you’d probably do well to check out #IslesOpeningNight.

Columbus collapse: Rangers spoil Blue Jackets’ opener

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For a little more than a minute, Brandon Saad was going to be the story of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ opener. Instead, his power-play goal merely got the ball rolling on a flabbergasting finish.

The New York Rangers scored three goals in 1:17 of game time to manage a 4-2 win.

They’ve now spoiled home openers for the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets to begin their 2015-16 season.

It might be easiest just to show you when the goals were scored, noting that the third period began with a 1-1 tie.

Brandon Saad power-play goal: 16:10 into third period (2-1 Columbus)
Oscar Lindberg: 17:24 (2-2 tie)
Kevin Hayes: 17:41 (3-2 Rangers)
Mats Zuccarello: 18:41 (4-2 Rangers)

Yikes. Zuccarello scored two of the Rangers’ goals, while a beauty by Cam Atkinson is likely long forgotten.