Blue Jackets sit atop Metro after Panarin goes pass-happy

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To some extent, Artemi Panarin‘s season feels like a microcosm for the Blue Jackets’ as a whole.

The former Blackhawks winger has been very good, especially by his underlying numbers, yet Panarin feels like he’s always that step away from truly exploding onto the scene. Perhaps Friday will serve as a fitting way for both “The Bread Man” and his team to really breakthrough?

In a staggering display of playmaking skills, Panarin collected five assists – all primary – as Columbus beat the New Jersey Devils 5-3 today. By handing the Devils that regulation defeat, the Blue Jackets move atop the Metropolitan Division, at least for one night.

The Washington Capitals remained hot in their own right, staying with Columbus. Here’s how the division looks after the Capitals beat the Rangers and the Blue Jackets topped the Devils:

1. Blue Jackets: 18-10-1, 37 points in 29 games played
2. Capitals: 18-11-1, 37 in 30 GP
3. Devils: 16-8-4, 36 in 28 GP
4. Islanders: 16-9-3, 35 in 28 GP
5. Penguins: 17-11-3, 35 in 30 GP
6. Rangers: 16-11-2, 32 in 28 GP
7. Flyers: 11-11-7, 29 in 29 GP
8. Hurricanes: 11-10-6, 28 in 27 GP

Phew, that’s a tight squeeze. While the Blue Jackets’ lead is clearly quite slim, this still feels like another step in the right direction for a squad many expect to make some real noise in the East this season.

Of course, to a large degree, making noise in the East means clearing the massive hurdle that is the Metro. The Blue Jackets have already learned painful lessons that a strong season can come to a screeching halt when a division rival like the Penguins goes all-out in the playoffs.

Still, this time around, the Blue Jackets have an ace up their sleeves in the hyper-creative Panarin, adding another dimension to a balanced attack:

Panarin tied some Blue Jackets records with this five-assist (and thus five-point) night, but both the player and team hope for even bigger things going forward.

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.