Columbus Blue Jackets

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The Buzzer: Milestones, shutouts and NHL firsts

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Players of the Night:

Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings: 

Gaborik scored twice and helped propel a four-goal third period for the Kings, who came back from a 2-1 deficit after 40 minutes to win 5-2 against the visiting Minnesota Wild. Gaborik’s second goal of the night was his 400th of his NHL career. It came against the team he achieved his highest scoring prowess with.

Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings: 

Nyquist scored twice and added a helper as the Red Wings toppled the Western Conference-best Winnipeg Jets at Little Caesars Arena. Nyquist’s first-period marker held up as the game-winner in a big game for the Red Wings, who responded after getting shellacked 10-1 by the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks:

Markstrom made 30 saves in a 3-0 win for the Canucks against the Carolina Hurricanes. His shutout was the first of his NHL career.

Highlights of the Night:

Boo Nieves, the owner of one of the coolest nicknames in the league, scored his first NHL goal on a slick wrist shot in the first period of a 4-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

John Gibson committed this theft tonight. The victim failed to press charges:

Shea Weber did his best Clayton Kershaw impression to score against the St. Louis Blues:

Factoids of the Night:

Gaborik had a pretty good night:

And Nikita Kucherov put himself in some pretty elite company, both in Tampa Bay Lightning history, as well as NHL history in general:

MISC:

Scores:

Devils 4, Blue Jackets 1

Rangers 4, Penguins 3

Blues 4, Canadiens 3

Red Wings 5, Jets 1

Lightning 6, Islanders 2

Predators 5, Stars 2

Sabres 4, Avalanche 2

Canucks 3, Hurricanes 0

Golden Knights 4, Ducks 3 (SO)

Kings 5, Wild 2


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blue Jackets are trending up

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A couple of weeks ago, PHT’s Adam Gretz hit the nail on the head in stating that the Columbus Blue Jackets “are not going away.”

Still, for those of us who’ve been impressed by their play and their war chest of prime-age (and nearing the cusp) talent, it’s been a little frustrating to see Columbus stumble a bit here and there through the baby steps of becoming a contender.

While acknowledging the risk of being the blog that cried wolf on this situation, Monday once again presented evidence that the Blues Jackets might just find their stride.

Now, it wasn’t easy against a struggling Buffalo Sabres team on Monday night,* as the Blue Jackets barely protected a 3-2 lead, with this near-goal making people hold their breath:

The overall trend is way up, however, as the Blue Jackets are now on a four-game winning streak. A lot has gone right for Columbus during that span; Sergei Bobrovsky‘s been brilliant, they haven’t allowed a power-play goal, and Artemi Panarin did this on Monday.

Diverse weapons

Columbus can be a scary opponent because they can send waves of quality forwards at opponents, especially with Josh Anderson, Alexander Wennberg, and Oliver Bjorkstrand (also perhaps Pierre Luc-Dubois?) emerging as threats. That said, Panarin might rank as their most dangerous “gamebreaker,” so it’s promising to see him score a goalie-had-no-chance brand of goal like that.

Sure, it would have been nice to add even one extra push with, say, Matt Duchene … but there’s a lot to like here, nonetheless.

Actually, I probably should have specified that Panarin is arguably the team’s most dangerous gamebreaker among their forwards.

As Alison Lukan discussed for The Athletic (sub required), the Blue Jackets are allowing their superb defensemen Zach Werenski and Seth Jones to run while as “rovers,” and that’s scary news for opponents. Defensemen given the green light to be aggressive can sometimes be that much tougher to track, and Werenski and Jones have the tools to mix attacking and responsible defense for a potent, frightening mix.

The evolution of Torts

On a similar note, allow me to utter an opinion that isn’t often shared by people who are even mildly interested in “fancy stats” and non-traditional ways of thinking: John Tortorella’s evolution makes me intrigued about this team’s chances.

It’s fair to ding Torts for being stubborn about certain things, yet I wonder if there’s some Mike Babcock to him: the fiery nature of an “old school” coach mixed with the survival instincts and competitiveness needed to actually embrace changes in the league.

Giving Jones and Werenski isn’t the first example of Tortorella going “safe is death” and it’s not the first sign of innovation in Columbus. After all, it took the NHL some time to adapt to the Blue Jackets’ power play last season, which involved using a would-be depth forward (Sam Gagner) in a specialist role that was quite effective and off the beaten path.

Robber Bob

The last reason to be excited about Columbus is fairly straightforward: it sure seems like Sergei Bobrovsky is less streaky and more, perhaps, the best goalie in the world. Or at least the best goalie on enough nights to make this team pretty scary.

Now, does this mean that Columbus won’t stumble again this season? Of course not. Really, we don’t see many teams nearly immune to struggles, and some arguably suffer if they don’t hit much regular-season turmoil (the 2015-16 and 2016-17 Capitals, perhaps?).

Ultimately, it’s difficult not to get excited about The Next Big Thing(s) in the NHL, and the Blue Jackets seem like they have the potential to be just that.

* – Check PHT on Tuesday for more on Jack Eichel and his struggling Sabres.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blue Jackets bet big on Cam Atkinson

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Carrying a $3.5 million cap hit, Cam Atkinson ranked as one of the better bargains in the NHL, especially considering his trip to the 2017 NHL All-Star Game. It sounds like the Columbus Blue Jackets rewarded him for that hard work on Thursday.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports (sub required) that the Blue Jackets signed Atkinson to a seven-year, $40.25 million extension, which translates to a $5.75M cap hit starting in 2018-19. (Confirmed by the team Friday morning.)

Atkinson will turn 29 in June, so his extension will kick in before he turns 30. Portzline explains that Atkinson sacrificed some short-term cash for the security of a longer deal.

Interesting.

PHT broke down the Blue Jacket’s salary cap structure after they signed Alexander Wennberg to a six-year deal that carries a $4.9M cap hit. Atkinson was singled out as one of the big forks in the road for Blue Jackets management, so they made a big commitment to him tonight.

(Note: the Blue Jackets haven’t confirmed the extension, but multiple outlets back up the news Portzline broke.)

It seems like Atkinson checks out pretty nicely from a fancy stats perspective, although the $5.75M question will be: how long will this count as a bargain?

The Blue Jackets are committed to Atkinson for more term than any other player now. That said, they do have some other guys under contracts for three years or more: Wennberg, Seth Jones, David Savard, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Josh Anderson, and Pierre-Luc Dubois (granted, the latter is a cheat since he’s on his rookie deal).

Columbus still has some questions to answer. Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin both only have two years remaining on their deals (counting this season). They need to figure out where Boone Jenner fits in the picture, as he’ll be an RFA next summer. Ryan Murray and Jack Johnson are both on expiring contracts, as well.

Overall, there’s definitely some risk involved in this Atkinson extension, yet we’re talking about a player in his prime who’s riding four consecutive 20+ goal seasons. If he can flirt with his breakthrough of 37 goals in 2016-17 fairly often, the Blue Jackets will be very happy with their decision.

Atkinson had been off to a somewhat slow start in 2017-18 (four goals, two assists in 15 games coming into Thursday), so maybe this extension will ease his mind, too?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Tortorella believes Bobrovsky’s made the top two saves of the year

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Where would the Blue Jackets be without Sergei Bobrovsky? Luckily for Columbus, they haven’t had to find that out.

As James O’Brien pointed out in yesterday’s edition of “The Buzzer,” Bobrovsky was outstanding in a 2-1 overtime win in Montreal.

“It’s the key of winning in the national hockey league,” Jackets head coach John Tortorella said after the win over the Canadiens. “Your goaltender has to do it. A couple of saves (Bobrovsky) made in the third period, and put that with the save he made in Detroit (on Saturday night), it’s a big reason why we’re getting points.

“He’s an athlete. The things he can do as far as going side-to-side is just so impressive…. Right now, I think the Columbus Blue Jackets own the best save of the year on the highlights and I think the second best save of the year on the highlights.”

Here’s the first save Tortorella was referring to:

As Torts pointed out, this is, in his mind, the save of the year. It’s hard to argue with that one.

This blocker stop on Jacob De La Rose was also pretty filthy:

Josh Anderson steps forward, emerges as offensive threat for Blue Jackets

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As Josh Anderson picked himself up off the ice and turned to drop his gloves and scrap with the opposing player who put him into the boards, that’s when it hit him who he was about to fight.

At 6-foot-3, 221 lbs., the Columbus Blue Jackets forward is a pretty big boy, but now he was preparing to fight a behemoth on skates in 6-foot-9, 250 lbs. Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins.

“When I dropped my gloves, I finally realized who I’m dropping them with,” Anderson told PHT this week. “You could just see the height difference. I just said to myself be patient and try to get as punches as you can in there.”

“It was a short fight, it wasn’t a long fight, which was probably a good thing in my favor,” Anderson added.

When Anderson isn’t using the physical part of his game, he’s providing plenty of production for a Blue Jackets team that’s off to another strong start at 9-6-1. After a 17-goal campaign last season, he’s followed that up with six goals in his first 14 games of the season.

A slow start would have been expected given that Anderson missed all of training camp as he and the Blue Jackets sorted out a new three-year, $5.55 million contract. So while he was in contact with his agent every day during the standoff, the 23-year-old Burlington, Ontario native did two-a-days to keep in shape as best he could. In between the workouts, he was receiving plenty of support from teammates, including Brandon Dubinsky, who went through his own tough negotiation with the New York Rangers in 2009.

“He just said hang in there, all your teammates are with you, so that made it easier,” Anderson said. “But it’s definitely tough going through it when you see your teammates at camp and all together and you see them bonding and you’re just at home. It’s not fun. But at the same time you have a life. You don’t play in the NHL for many years.”

After a deal was agreed to, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella expressed his frustrations regarding Anderson missing camp, and just how much that hurts a young player’s development. “I just think young guys need to understand the (arc) of their career, what they need to do,” he said via The Athletic. “Not pull these shenanigans because you have a good 60-70 games. I think you have to do it again, and then you start saying, ‘you know what? I want this, I want that.’ I think you need to wait your turn, I guess is what I’m saying.”

“Obviously he was really disappointed in me missing camp,” said Anderson, “but I knew that when I got back into Columbus I had to be in the best shape because I’d be one step behind everybody knowing that they’ve been at camp for a couple of weeks, on the ice every single day.”

Anderson was given a regular opportunity to stick in the NHL last season. After two years of playing mostly in the AHL with the Blue Jackets’ affiliates in Springfield and Lake Erie, he changed his mentality to that of believing he could find a role.

“I was just trying to play every game thinking that I don’t want to be sent down,” he said. “John Tortorella wants you to play every game and be really consistent. [I] just wanted to play my game, every game, whether that’s hitting or scoring or making a difference to the lineup.”

So far, Anderson is backing up his talk and making a difference. He leads the Blue Jackets in goals with six and is tied for this on the team with nine points. It’s a balanced attack that’s also playing well defensively.

After all of the positives that came out of the 2016-17 regular season, the ending — a five-game exit at the hands of eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins — was one to forget. But according to Anderson, the Blue Jackets haven’t erased their memories of how early their off-seasons began last spring.

“I think there’s an unfinished business mentality going through our room right now,” he said. “We played only 10 days in the playoffs last year. Obviously you want to play longer than that, but I think this year we got younger and we got faster and more skilled.

“Going through some stuff like that last year helps our team this year, and I think we’ve got to do the same thing we did last year and treat every day with a business-like style. If we keep doing that and getting better each day I think we’ll be fine.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.