Oliver Bjorkstrand

Push for the Playoffs: Blue Jackets’ depth being tested down the stretch

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2019-20 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The expectations around the Columbus Blue Jackets heading into this season weren’t too high. After all, they had lost Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in free agency. But thanks to their team depth and the emergence of certain young players, they’ve found a way to put themselves in the mix for a playoff spot.

Heading into tonight’s game against the Calgary Flames, the Jackets find themselves in the final Wild Card spot, with 78 points. The Carolina Hurricanes are three points behind them, but they have three games in hand. This should be a tight finish.

The bad news for Columbus, is that they’ve been hit pretty hard by the injury bug this week. Not only did they find out that Josh Anderson, who has been out since mid-December, won’t be returning this year, they also lost Oliver Bjorkstrand for eight-to-10 weeks.

Goaltender Elvis Merzlikins has also missed the last three games due to a concussion. Seth Jones has been sidelined with a right ankle injury and Cam Atkinson is also out with an ankle injury.

They caught a break on Sunday, as they welcomed back Ryan Murray back from a prolonged lower-body injury. He played 20:28 in the victory over the Canucks.

They’re about to hit the road for a three-game road trip through Western Canada.

“Yeah, we have a good trip planned,” head coach John Tortorella said, per The Athletic. “We’re going to take off to go to an area up there to practice. I think it’s a good time for our team to get off and get away … quite honestly and just concentrate on each and every game. We’re looking forward to it.”

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Bruins vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Islanders
Lightning vs. Maple Leafs
Flyers vs. Penguins

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Blues vs. Jets
Golden Knights vs. Canucks
Avalanche vs. Stars
Oilers vs. Flames

TODAY’S GAME WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Flyers at Capitals, 7 p.m. ET (watch live on NBCSN)
Blue Jackets at Flames, 8:30 p.m. ET
Ducks vs. Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ET (watch live on NBCSN)
Coyotes vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey-Reference)
Bruins – 100 percent
Lightning – 100 percent
Capitals – 99.9 percent
Flyers – 98.6 percent
Penguins – 96.9 percent
Maple Leafs – 84.6 percent
Islanders – 71.9 percent
Hurricanes 62.9 percent
Blue Jackets – 38.2 percent
Panthers – 23.3 percent
Rangers – 22.4 percent
Canadiens – 1.1 percent
Sabres – 0.2 percent
Senators – 0 percent
Devils – 0 percent
Red Wings – Out

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES
Avalanche – 100 percent
Blues – 100 percent
Stars – 99.6 percent
Oilers – 97 percent
Golden Knights – 96.2 percent
Canucks – 77 percent
Flames – 62.9 percent
Wild – 54.5 percent
Jets – 37 percent
Coyotes – 32.5 percent
Predators – 30.4 percent
Blackhawks 12.7 percent
Sharks – 0.2 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Red Wings – 18.5 percent
Kings – 13.5 percent
Senators – 11. 5 percent
Ducks – 9.5 percent
Senators – 8.5 percent*
Devils – 7.5 percent
Sabres – 6.5 percent
Blackhawks – 6 percent
Canadiens – 5 percent
Devils – 3.5 percent**
Jets – 3 percent
Predators – 2.5 percent
Panthers – 2 percent
Rangers – 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets – 1 percent
(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

ART ROSS RACE
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 108 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 95 points
David Pastrnak, Bruins – 92 points
Artemi Panarin, Rangers – 90 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 86 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
David Pastrnak, Bruins – 47 goals
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 46 goals
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 45 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 43 goals
Sebastian Aho, Hurricanes – 36 goals

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blue Jackets’ nightmare season of injuries continues with Bjorkstrand news

You could not possibly blame the Columbus Blue Jackets and their fans if they thought there was some kind of supernatural force aligning against them this season.

It is obviously just a lot of bad luck, but the ongoing injury situation is really starting to become absurd.

It continued on Friday with the news that Oliver Bjorkstrand, currently the team’s leading goal scorer this season with 21 goals in only 49 games, is going to be sidelined for the next 8-10 weeks due to an ankle sprain and fracture.

The injury happened in the Blue Jackets’ loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night.

Columbus managed to overcome a free agency exodus this offseason to remain in the playoff race far longer than most expected, but the injuries are starting to add up into something that might be too much to overcome.

Bjorkstrand’s injury comes at a time where the team is already playing without Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, Joonas Korpisalo, Josh Anderson, Ryan Murray, Alexandre Texier, Alexander Wennberg, Brandon Dubinsky, and Dean Kukan.

That list includes two of their top forwards (Atkinson and Bjorkstrand), their top defenseman (Jones), their starting goalie (Korpisalo), and a couple of young players they were counting on to take big steps forward this season (Texier, Wennberg).

For the season the Blue Jackets have lost a league-leading 345 man games due to injury.

Despite all of that they went on a 19-2-5 run for the two-month stretch between Dec. 7 and Feb. 7 to climb to within striking distance of the second playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Since then, though, they have managed just an 0-3-4 record in the seven games since.

As of Friday they occupy the top Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference with 73 points, just one point ahead of the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes. They are also just two points behind the Flyers for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. The problem is all three of those teams have games in hand on the Blue Jackets and are on pace for more points this season.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blue Jackets injured list keeps growing as Wennberg to miss 3-4 weeks

Blue Jackets
Getty

The injuries will not stop for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

They added another name to their already lengthy injured list on Monday when they announced that forward Alexander Wennberg is going to miss the next three-to-four weeks due to an upper-body injury.

He was injured during the Blue Jackets’ 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday afternoon.

Wennberg is one of just eight Blue Jackets to have played in at least 50 of the team’s first 53 games this season. He has five goals 15 assists on the season.

He is not one of the Blue Jackets’ biggest offensive contributors, but any injury at this point is going to be significant given the list of players they are already without. The Blue Jackets are already dealing with injuries to Josh Anderson, Ryan Murray, Joonas Korpisalo, Alexandre Texier, Dean Kukan, and now Wennberg. That list also does not include Brandon Dubinsky (who has yet to play in a single game this season), or the previous injuries they have dealt with this season.

At various times this season they have also been without defenseman Zach Werenski (nine games), top goal scorer Oliver Bjorkstrand (13 games), and top winger Cam Atkinson (12 games).

When you add all of that to the offseason free agent departures it is amazing that this team is not only in a playoff spot as of Monday, but is also two points ahead of its pace from a year ago. It is a testament to the job coach John Tortorella has done behind the bench, and also the shockingly great play of their goalies (Korpisalo, Elvis Merzlikins, and Matiss Kivlenieks).

The Blue Jackets are on a run that has seen them collect a point in 22 of their past 24 games (17-2-5). They play again on Tuesday against the Florida Panthers in a huge game in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Panthers are dealing with their own significant injury at the moment (read about it here).

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Cirelli, DeBrusk lead this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Zach Sanford, Blues – C/LW: Sanford recorded just 20 points in 60 games last season, but he averaged a modest 12:35 minutes. Through Jan. 9th, he had three goals and 10 points in 32 contests in 2019-20, but again his ice time was low at an average of 12:26. Over his last eight games though, his playing time has increased to 14:05 minutes per game and he’s scored three goals and nine points over that span. It certainly helps that he’s been regularly skating on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron. Sanford is still playing above his head right now and it’s questionable if he’ll be worth owning in standard leagues after this hot streak is over, but there is the potential for him to surprise people the rest of the way if he does keep getting decent minutes.

Kailer Yamamoto, Oilers – RW/LW: This isn’t the first time Yamamoto has been called up, but this is looking like the time he sticks with the Oilers. He has been so good with five goals and 10 points in 11 contests with Edmonton this season. Yamamoto has been highly regarded for a while, it’s just taken a bit of time for him to develop and now that he has, he could be a great offensive force going forward. He’s only owned in 10% of Yahoo leagues, so in most cases it’s not too late to take a chance on him.

Jake DeBrusk, Bruins – LW/RW: Debrusk is one of those players who isn’t quite worth owning all the time in standard leagues, but he’s not far off. He’s been solid offensively with 17 goals and 32 points in 48 games and his eligibility on both wings gives fantasy owners a nice amount of flexibility when it comes to using him. He’s just maybe a hair less productive than the low end of what you’d typically want on your team. As an injury stopgap measure though, he’s pretty much the ideal. If you’re hunting your free agent market for hot players, he also works there after scoring an impressive six goals and 12 points over his last 10 games.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Bjorkstrand was red hot with five goals and seven points in his last four games when he suffered a rib/cartilage contusion and an oblique strain that cost him four-to-six weeks. He returned on Jan. 19th and picked up right where he left off with another five goals and six points in his last four contests. At this point he has 17 goals and 29 points despite being limited to 40 games. He managed to score 23 goals in 2018-19 even though he was averaging just 12:20 minutes, so now that he’s getting 17:28 minutes per game, it’s not shocking to see him be such a significant goal scorer. He’s owned in 41% of Yahoo leagues and there should be use for him on teams in many of the leagues where he’s still available.

Zach Hyman, Maple Leafs – C/LW: Hyman couldn’t make his season debut until Nov. 13th and it took him a while to get going offensively with two goals and three points in his first 10 games. That’s partially masked how big of a threat he’s been for a while now. From Dec. 4th onward, Hyman has shined with 12 goals and 22 points in 23 games. In spite of that, Hyman is still owned in just 25% of leagues. That’s somewhat understandable given that in previous seasons he’s been good, but not great offensively and the high powered Maple Leafs’ offense features far bigger names who get most of the attention, but at this point, picking up Hyman is worthy of serious consideration.

Jesper Bratt, Devils – LW/RW: Bratt was having a pretty quiet season with six goals and nine points in 27 contests before Taylor Hall was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes. Since the trade though, he’s seen an uptick in responsibilities and his production has climbed up along with it. He went from averaging 13:12 minutes before the trade to 15:07 minutes over his last 13 contests. Over that recent span he has three goals and 10 points in 13 games. Bratt has been playing alongside Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri, who were Hall’s former linemates, so it has been a case of Bratt getting a nice opportunity as a result of the trade.

Kevin Hayes, Flyers – C: Hayes has been a hot-and-cold player this season. That combined with his center-only eligibility makes him a tough sell as a player to pick up and hold long-term. If you’re interested in short-term pickups though, you can attempt to strategically grab and drop him. In that regard, this might be a good time to consider him because it looks like he’s at the beginning of a new hot streak with two goals and five points in his last four games, including a three-point showing on Saturday.

Nick Suzuki, Canadiens – C/RW: The Calder Trophy conversation right now is basically Quinn Hughes versus Cale Makar – and for good reason, those two defensemen have had excellent campaigns. That said, there a few rookie forwards who have been standing out too and one of them is Suzuki. With 10 goals and 33 points in 54 games this season, he ranks fourth in the rookie scoring race. He’s had some prolonged cold streaks, such as his recent stretch from Dec. 31-Jan. 18 of just two goals and four points in 11 games, but he’s also had some really great runs and he’s on one right now with a goal and six points in his last four games.

Tyler Ennis, Senators – LW/RW: Ennis is having his best season in years with 13 goals and 30 points in 52 contests thanks in part to him having a significantly bigger role with Ottawa than he did in Toronto or Minnesota. He’s still been somewhat hot-and-cold, so he’s not a great option all the time, but right now he’s enjoying one of his hot streaks with two goals and five points in his last five games.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: From Jan. 14th onward, Cirelli has been one of the league’s top performers with four goals and 10 points in seven games. Of course, he’s been pretty good all season with 13 goals and 37 points in 51 games. His center-only eligibility is his biggest knock at this point, but even with that in mind, you could do worse than having him on your team long-term.

Players You May Want To Drop

Cam Atkinson, Blue Jackets – RW: Atkinson had an amazing run of eight goals and 12 points in 11 contests, but that’s behind him now. He hasn’t gotten a point in any of his last four games, even as the Blue Jackets as a squad continue to excel. Atkinson is a player worth always keeping an eye on because when he’s at his best, he’s superb, but I think for some owners it’s okay to risk exposing him to the free agent pool during the stretches where he’s not producing.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal has a foot injury right now, but that might not end up being a significant injury. Even if you take that out as a factor though, Neal just hasn’t done that much. He had that amazing run of 11 goals in his first 14 games, but he’s found the back of the net just eight times in the 36 games that followed and that’s even with his hat trick on Dec. 31st. He hasn’t even really had a meaningful hot streak since October. Neal will almost certainly find his way back to the 20-goal milestone after falling well short of that in 2018-19, but that’s mostly just thanks to that hot start. If you missed out on that, there hasn’t been much benefit to owning Neal this season.

Alex Killorn, Lightning– LW/RW: With 20 goals and 40 points in 50 games, Killorn has already set a new career-high in goals and matched his 2018-19 points total. He’s never recorded more than 47 points in a single season, so it’s not at all hard to believe that this will be the 30-year-old’s best campaign to date. That said, he’s largely riding on his early success at this stage. From Nov. 18-Dec. 31 he was playing like an elite with 13 goals and 28 points in 23 games, but since then he has five goals and six points in 14 contests, including just three points in his last nine contests. Even if you decide against dropping him right now because, again, his season overall has been spectacular, you should keep a critical eye on him over the next couple weeks. It’s entirely plausible that his best days of the 2019-20 campaign are behind him.

Tomas Hertl, Sharks – C/LW: This one is more of just a reminder of the unfortunate. Hertl suffered a torn ACL/MCL on Wednesday and he won’t play again this season as a result, so dropping him if you’re in a single season league is a no brainer. I would however like to take this time to encourage you to keep him in mind when it comes to fantasy drafts for 2020-21. He was underperforming a little – along with the Sharks as a team – before the injury so that combined with his season being cut short could lead to him slipping in drafts next season. You might get very good value for selecting him as a result.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: Duclair is having a strong season with 21 goals and 34 points in 51 contests. The catch is that most of his production has been the result of a couple big hot streaks. He had five goals and eight points in eight games from Oct. 23-Nov. 9 and another 11 goals and 15 points in 10 games from Dec. 3-21. Since his latest hot streak, he’s been limited to just four assists in 14 games. Feel free to drop him for now and just keep an eye out for his next big run.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

The Buzzer: Blue Jackets hold on for six wins in a row

Blue Jackets surprises Elvis Merzlikins
Getty Images

Three Stars

1. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets continue their run of resiliency by fighting back from three deficits (1-0, 2-1, and 3-2) to win in regulation. Their narrow victory against the Jets pushes the Blue Jackets to six wins in a row. With that, they tie the Panthers for the hottest streak entering the All-Star break.

Dubois ended up as Wednesday’s only three-point player, collecting them all on assists. That outburst leaves Dubois with 38 points in 51 games this season.

While those aren’t astronomical numbers, his strong all-around play confirms to me that PLD isn’t just a product of Artemi Panarin.

Now, does Panarin boost the numbers of about everyone he plays with, though? Sure, but Dubois is proving that he can stand on his own.

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets

Bjorkstrand merits an argument as the top star of the day. If nothing else, the winger is hotter than PLD — and plenty of others — if you zoom out.

Bjorkstrand scored two goals for Columbus for the third game in a row. In all three cases, Bjorkstrand collected the game-winning goal. Hmm … maybe Bjorkstrand really deserves that top star nod?

Watch out for a possible strong finish to 2019-20. Last season, Bjorkstrand scored more goals (16) and points (22) in 34 games after the 2019 All-Star break than he did in 43 games before it (seven goals, 14 points). While I’d chalk quite a bit of that up to linemates — wait for it, Bjorkstrand enjoyed some nice Panarin reps, and some Matt Duchene ones too — Bjorkstrand is also one of those snipers who can get on a hot streak. If he repeats history, it could be a big difference-maker for a Blue Jackets team forced to scratch and claw.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Flip Zadina might deserve the nod more than Staal. Zadina, like Bjorkstrand, generated his two points by way of goals. The rookie also affected the game in other ways, firing seven shots on goal and drawing a late penalty that gave Detroit a slight chance for a comeback.

The Wild won, however, and that strikes me as a tiebreaker. That said, even choosing the best Wild skater is tough. I’m giving Staal the edge because both of his points (1G, 1A) were of the primary variety. (Mats Zuccarello‘s 1G, 1A includes a secondary helper). Mathew Dumba makes a strong argument with his two assists and +3 rating, so really, it’s a matter of taste.

Either way, it’s surreal that Staal recently reached 1,000 points. It might even make some of us feel old.

/makes old man noise just from shifting in seat

Highlights

Wednesday provided us with a scant two games, so why not just enjoy clips from both? If you want a standout moment, I’d argue Seth Jones‘ goal was the pick:

Here are the highlights for Minnesota dominating the second period to beat Detroit:

Factoids

  • Again, the Blue Jackets extended their winning streak to six by coming back. It’s apparently their 15th comeback win of 2019-20, second only to the Capitals’ 16 for the most in the league, according to NHL PR.
  • Bjorkstrand became the first Blue Jackets player to score multiple goals in three games or more, via NHL PR. I’m a little surprised Rick Nash never managed that when he was their go-to guy and a premiere power forward.
  • Wednesday marked the first multi-goal game of Zadina’s career. The 20-year-old joins select Red Wings company.
  • Kyle Connor collected his 15th goal since Dec. 1. Auston Matthews is the only player with more (18) during that span, according to NHL PR. Connor has 25 goals overall in 2019-20.
  • Sportsnet stats notes the Jets are 1-6-0 in their last seven, and other numbers are disturbing.

Scores

CBJ 4 – WIN 3
MIN 4 – DET 2

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.