James O'Brien

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 15:  Team USA head coach John Tortorella answers questions during Media day at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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As everyone expected, Blue Jackets could soon lead the Metro division

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After beating the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Thursday, the Columbus Blue Jackets are ranked third in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the Washington Capitals. Seriously.

Here’s the thing: saying they’re in third doesn’t even really do their promising position justice. Look at where they stand among the upper echeleon of a pretty stout division (full standings here):

Rangers: 16-8-1 for 33 points in 25 games
Penguins: 14-7-3 for 31 points in 24 games
Blue Jackets: 13-5-4 for 30 points in 22 games
Capitals: 13-7-2 for 28 points in 22 games

Apologies to the Coyotes, but with their next two games against Arizona, the Blue Jackets stand a great chance to match or exceed the Rangers’ 33 points.

There’s only so much to gain from pouring over the schedule, and diving deep into the details can distract you from the truly mind-blowing realization that the Blue Jackets might just be for real.

It’s not just the record or the hot run; Columbus’ +20 goal differential is second to the Rangers’ +28 mark among the NHL’s best. While the Blue Jackets are ranked sixth in PDO – a stat that indicates a team is getting lucky – the Rangers are far and above everyone else.

So, again, a team that was a very popular – and let’s be honest, reasonable – choice to finish dead last in the NHL is in a solid position to get home ice for a round in the playoffs.

Allow that to sink in once more: the Blue Jackets might just be for real.

Tarasenko torments Tampa Bay in Blues win

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Despite being the cover star for “NHL 17,” it feels like Vladimir Tarasenko sometimes slips under the radar, at least compared to some of his high-scoring peers.

Games like Thursday’s 5-4 win for the St. Louis Blues vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning should help him get some more attention.

Tarasenko generated his third career hat trick and added an assist for good measure, giving him 13 goals and 27 points in 24 games this season. (You can watch his impressive display in the video above.)

Other Blues who stood out were Alexander Steen (three assists in his first game since Nov. 15) and Kevin Shattenkirk, who managed two goals and two assists. With 19 points in 24 games, Shattenkirk is putting himself in a position to make some big bucks, whether that happens in St. Louis or somewhere else.

The Blues are on quite the run, especially at home.

Baby steps for the Bolts?

This stands as yet another night in which the Lightning allowed far too many goals. They’ve been out-scored 19-9 during a troubling four-game losing streak.

Even so, the Lightning saw some good in this game, as they made things interesting after St. Louis was at one point up 4-1. Tyler Johnson considered it a “step in the right direction,” for one.

“I thought we deserved points,” Jon Cooper said, according to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.

They didn’t, of course, but perhaps this will be something to build on as the Lightning play three of their next four games at home.

McDavid, Oilers cool Jets despite Laine’s explosiveness

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It wasn’t just about Connor McDavid and Patrik Laine during Thursday’s 6-3 win for the Oilers over the Jets. The two high-end young scorers did deliver the goods, though.

McDavid generated three assists to help the Oilers end a three-game losing streak. Leon Draisaitl and Mark Letestu each generated two-goal, one-assist nights in sharing the spotlight with McDavid.

Could it be that the Oilers found a great fit for No. 97 in another high-end draft pick, by the way?

Edmonton gets the last laugh – and, really, a sigh of relief – yet it’s hard not to marvel at Laine in his own right. As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, he showed off his already-elite release with two blazing power-play goals.

With a pretty road-heavy schedule coming up, the Jets would have preferred a third consecutive win over their another highlight reel night for their fabulous first-year forward, but the Oilers ended up coming through instead.

Video: Giroux gets his authoritative OT-winner this time around

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 29:  Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrates his goal with teammates on the bench in the first period against the Boston Bruins on November 29, 2016 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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You can only give Claude Giroux these types of chances so many times before he burns you. Badly.

The Boston Bruins survived a resounding overtime opportunity from Giroux on Tuesday (which was understandably forgotten since Philly won in a shootout anyway), but Mike Condon and the Ottawa Senators weren’t so lucky tonight.

Jakub Voracek did a great job setting the table for Giroux, who fired the overtime game-winner home in a 3-2 win against the Sens. With that, the Flyers are on a three-game winning streak.

Let’s compare the two chances, shall we?

First, the one that didn’t work out for Giroux:

Next, tonight’s powerful clincher:

That was the second Voracek-to-Giroux goal of the night. Gee, those two have done a few good things together, haven’t they?

Crosby keeps scoring, Stars keep losing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on November 30, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Penguins 5-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s hard to fathom the Dallas Stars’ minus-22 goal differential, but if you need an explanation, look to nights like these.

The advantage should have been on Dallas’ side. The Penguins were closing off a back-to-back set and likely expended quite a bit of energy trying to come back against the Islanders last night.

Instead, the Penguins were the team that pulled away, dropping three third-period goals on the Stars for a lopsided 6-2 decision. As much as people look for the good in this for the Stars, it’s not the greatest sign when you see quotes like these:

“I haven’t had much fun the past few weeks, losing so much and giving up a lot of goals,” Marc-Andre Fleury said, according to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “That was a fun game to play.”

Look, this is a “child’s game” these guys are playing … but yeah, it’s usually not a great sign when the opposing team is talking about how much they enjoyed facing you. Sidney Crosby‘s happy to face just about anyone these days, scoring his 16th goal in just 18 games:

That goal almost feels a little symbolic, doesn’t it?

The Stars are now under what you might call .500 (9-10-6), with three straight losses and just two wins in their last seven games. The scary part is that things have often been even uglier than that disappointing record.

Pittsburgh and Crosby are just the types to shine a light on those issues, too.