Blue Jackets just going about their business, as winning streak approaches NHL record

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Coach John Tortorella hates talking about it, but the Blue Jackets’ improbable 16-game winning streak has Columbus and the NHL buzzing.

A win on Thursday night in Washington will tie Columbus with the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr for the longest streak in league history. The team’s surprising success and the streak have given long-suffering Blue Jackets fans much to cheer about lately. Just don’t ask Torts about it.

“I just want us to keep our heads down, and I just want us to play,” he said after Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over Edmonton. “You know what we are? We’re a group of businessmen, as far as I’m concerned.”

Columbus hasn’t lost since a 2-1 setback at Florida on Nov. 26. The Blue Jackets won all 14 games in December and their 27-5-4 record is the NHL’s best. Boasting the league’s best power-play unit, they sit atop the rugged Metropolitan Division with reigning NHL champs Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers trailing.

“As soon as our game was over (Tuesday) night, guys were checking to see if they won or not. We had it on,” said Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik, who will try to slow down the surging Blue Jackets on Thursday. “If anyone says they weren’t (paying attention) they’re lying because we had it on in the change room.”

What’s even more astounding is that Blue Jackets were among the league’s dregs last season, finishing 34-40-8. Without any blockbuster trades or big name free-agent signings in the offseason, expectations for the 2016-17 bunch were fairly low.

But a mixture of experience and youth – outstanding first-line defenders Zach Werenski and Seth Jones are 19 and 22, respectively – along with terrific goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has lifted the Blue Jackets to unprecedented heights and has them eyeing the Stanley Cup playoffs for just the third time in the 16-year history of the franchise.

Tortorella preaches never getting too up or too down about anything that happens. Captain Nick Foligno said there hasn’t been much talk about the streak in the Blue Jackets locker room.

“As you get closer, I think that’s when you start to taste it a little bit more, understand it a little bit more,” he said. “But for us, it’s just knowing how we’re going to go about our business. That’s what I’m so proud of. It’s easy to get your eye off the goal when you’re going through something like this. But for us the goal isn’t the streak, it’s what’s coming ahead and what’s coming down the road.”

Cam Atkinson leads the team with 18 goals and 38 points through 36 games and scored the opening tally against Edmonton on Tuesday.

“I think we’re just rolling,” he said. “I personally don’t think about (the streak), other guys might. Obviously, it’s really cool if you think about it, but right now we’re just focusing on trying to get (another) two points.”

Read more: ‘Going to be a fun moment’ ending Columbus’ streak, says Burakovsky

But a lot of other people are talking about it, including Scotty Bowman, who was coach of the 1992-93 Pittsburgh team that won 17 straight. Bowman, now a senior adviser to the Chicago Blackhawks, said the Blue Jackets’ string of wins is “unbelievable” considering the parity in today’s game.

“They’ve got a lot of things going for them, a heck of a power play, and they’ve got a goaltender that’s helped,” Bowman said.

The 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers own a record 35-game unbeaten streak that will almost certainly never be matched because they played when overtime didn’t exist in the regular season. The Flyers won 25 games and tied 10 more from Oct. 16, 1979, until Jan. 6, 1980.

For now, the Blue Jackets are just looking ahead to the Capitals. And after Tuesday’s win in front a vocal near-sellout crowd, even the irascible Tortorella was in a decent mood.

“Everything feels good right now,” he said.

Related: The young Blue Jackets, with a ‘new culture,’ are the NHL’s biggest surprise

Habs president Molson pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

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Another bold move by GM Marc Bergevin, another statement from Montreal Canadiens president/CEO Geoff Molson.

However Molson actually feels about the franchise’s decision to let Andrei Markov leave for the KHL, he provided quite the goodbye letter regarding the 38-year-old defenseman. One can’t help but wonder how Molson feels about Montreal’s overall makeover, whether you believe Mark Streit is really “replacing” Markov or not.

Anyway, that will need to wait. In the meantime, here’s the very kind statement from Molson to Markov:

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defensemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

Speaking of Canadiens all-timers, Larry Robinson had plenty of nice things to say about Markov, too.

Related

Markov, Habs officially part ways.

Markov is headed to the KHL.

Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

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The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eihel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least development into a regular NHL player.

Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.

Andrei Markov opts for KHL after saying goodbye to Canadiens

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Andrei Markov wanted to play his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens. With that option officially off the table, Markov announced that he’s headed for Russia and the KHL.

“I didn’t see myself with any other NHL team,” Markov said during a conference call wrapping up his lengthy stay with the Habs. “I didn’t see myself wearing another jersey.”

(At least not the jersey of another NHL team.)

The 38-year-old also noted that he hasn’t closed the door to a return to Montreal. That makes sense since it seems like it was largely the Canadiens’ decision to part ways with Markov, essentially replacing him with Mark Streit at a heavily discounted rate.

Beyond the comforts of home, Markov was almost certainly motivated to play in the KHL because of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The veteran blueliner did not mention which KHL team he’ll end up playing for. There were some rumblings that Markov might sign with the Florida Panthers, but that turned out to not be true.

If it’s a one-year deal, a return to the Habs is at least feasible in 2018-19. Considering his age, it sure seems like this is the end of Markov’s lengthy run with the Canadiens, though.

After making NHL debut, Jones re-ups with Isles

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One of the Isles’ feel-good stories from last season wrote a new chapter on Thursday.

Connor Jones, the undrafted 26-year-old that made his NHL debut in April, has signed a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced.

Jones certainly earned his way to the show. He spent four years at Quinnipiac before catching on with the Oilers, spending time with both their AHL and ECHL affiliates before jumping to the Isles organization in 2015.

Though he’s not an offensive producer — just 19 points in 58 games with Bridgeport last season — Jones emerged as a good energy guy that proved an effective penalty killer.

With AHL Bridgeport, he also played alongside his twin brother, Kellen, who was in attendance as Connor made his NHL debut in April.

Connor would go on to play four games for the Isles, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.