PHT Power Rankings: Don’t sleep on the Blue Jackets

10 Comments

It can be really easy to sometimes forget about, or even completely overlook, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Historically, they are still a franchise that has yet to get out of the first-round of the playoffs. They have been constantly stuck in the shadows behind perpetual Stanley Cup contenders (and Stanley Cup winners) like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the standings, and unable to knock them off their thrones when it comes to the postseason.

This season they not only have to deal with those two teams that have won each of the past three Stanley Cups, but the New York Islanders have also emerged as the story in the Eastern Conference.

So again, it is easy for them to kind of get … lost.

But the Blue Jackets are good. They are really good, and they are a team that you should be paying attention to as we head into the second half of the 2018-19 season.

How good are they? For starters, they are a top-10 team in the league standings as of Monday. They have an exciting game-breaker at forward in Artemi Panarin, and they have one of the best all-around defenders in the league in Seth Jones who continues to get better every single season. Along with them, second-year player Pierre-Luc Dubois is developing into a legit top-line center, while Cam Atkinson is the best goal-scorer in the league that nobody ever talks about (14th in the league since the start of the 2015-16 season). Their underlying numbers are strong. They are a good possession team, they typically win the scoring chance battle, and they are really good on the penalty kill.

What makes them such an intriguing team is that they have maintained such a high spot in the standings and are still right in the thick of the Metropolitan Division race despite getting some of the worst goaltending in the league this season.

At least as far as potential playoff teams go.

Sergei Bobrovsky‘s play has dropped significantly from where it has been in previous seasons, and while Joonas Korpisalo is a decent backup he’s probably not going to be backstopping a team to a title.

Overall, the Bobrovsky-Korpisalo duo has managed only a .900 save percentage for the season. That is 20th in the NHL. The only teams currently occupying a playoff position that are worse than them are the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. When it comes to even-strength play, they drop down to 24th where Sharks are the only team in a playoff spot with a worse mark. Typically teams that get this level of goaltending don’t end up winning many games. The fact the Blue Jackets are, and winning as regularly as they are, is a testament to how strong the team in front of their goaltenders can be.

Long-term this team has some question marks, specifically as it relates to Bobrovsky and Panarin who are both eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. Losing one or both could be pretty damaging, especially with Panarin because it is going to be extremely difficult to replace his production. But in the short-term, this is a really good hockey team that is decent goaltending away from being a true contender in the Eastern Conference. Especially as the two teams that have stood in their way the longest have seemingly taken a step back this season.

The only question is whether or not they can actually get that goaltending this season, and if it is going to come from Bobrovsky or from somebody that is currently outside of the organization.

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Still in a class all to themselves. The pressure to win it all is going to be immense this season.

2. Calgary Flames — An absolutely incredible one-year turnaround. In any other year Bill Peters would probably be a lock for the Jack Adams Award, but he is probably already stuck in second place behind Barry Trotz.

3. San Jose Sharks — It’s not usually a good sign when two of your top-three scorers are defenders. But when those two defenders have combined to win three Norris Trophies (and be finalists three other times) and are both point-per-game players, you can win with it. Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns are giving the Sharks just what they expected this season. Unfortunately for the Sharks Karlsson is going to be shut down for a couple of games.

The second tier

4. New York Islanders — They have won 15 of their past 18 games and enter the week with a three-point cushion over every other team in the Metropolitan Division. If they win it Barry Trotz will probably be a unanimous coach of the year winner.

5. Winnipeg Jets — They haven’t always looked great in recent weeks, but they keep scoring a lot of goals and piling up a lot wins.

6. Vegas Golden Knights — Alex Tuch has been the big breakout player for the Golden Knights this season, and now that they have a healthy Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny there is an argument to be made they are even deeper than last year’s team.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets — Imagine how good they would be this season with decent goaltending.

The Other Contenders

8. Nashville Predators — They’ve slumped a bit recently, but I am still not worried. The types of peaks and valleys that every team faces over an 82-game season.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs — They have lost seven out of 10 and some of their big-money players, specifically William Nylander, are not scoring like they are expected to. Surely this will all result in a calm, rational response in Toronto

10. Washington Capitals — A five-game losing streak is almost unheard of for the Capitals. They gave up at least seven goals in two of those games during the current losing streak.

11. Boston Bruins — You have to think there is going to be a trade for some more forward help. Their top three forwards are incredible. They do not have much help.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins — They were on a roll and looking like a Stanley Cup contender until they went on this most recent Western Conference road trip where they reverted back to their early season ways. The bye week and All-Star break is coming at the absolute perfect time for them.

13. Montreal Canadiens –Carey Price is the X-factor for this team. He has a .951 save percentage so far in January and a .930 mark since the start of December.

The Bubble Teams

14. Carolina Hurricanes — They are not going away quietly and really trying to make a run at a playoff spot. Nino Niederreiter was an outstanding pickup that will help not only this season, but in the future as well.

15. Minnesota Wild — They still have the inside track for a playoff spot at the moment, but the status of defenseman Matt Dumba and swapping Niederreiter for Victor Rask is not a promising development for their roster.

[Related: Dumba’s anger led to indefinite stint on sidelines]

16. Vancouver Canucks — They are definitely benefitting from the bottom half of the Western Conference being completely mediocre, but they are still exceeding expectations in a big way. Will Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser be enough to drag them to the playoffs? That is a big ask, but they are at least an interesting team because of them.

17. Buffalo Sabres — With Jack Eichel continuing to develop into a star, Jeff Skinner erupting offensively, and the team winning 17 of its first 25 games it seemed like the playoffs were a given. Not so much now.

18. Colorado Avalanche — The more this season goes on the more it seems that this is a completely ordinary team that just so happens to have one truly dominant line up front. They are just 5-11-3 in their past 19 games.

19. St. Louis Blues — Somehow they are still very much in the Western Conference wild card race, and at the moment are probably playing better than any of the teams around them. Unfortunately that terrible start to the season may make this a case of too little, too late.

20. Arizona Coyotes — Not only are they are 8-4-2 in their past 14 games, but they are doing it with a roster that has been held together with duct tape and playing really well against some of the league’s best teams.

21. Dallas Stars — Just when they started to show some signs of getting it together, they dropped four in a row this past week. Hopefully the bye week is an opportunity for them to recharge and put the first half drama behind them.

The Lottery Teams

22. New York Rangers — After David Quinn ripped his team’s effort in a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets they responded by winning three in a row. Not enough to make a dent in the deficit they are facing in the Wild Card race, but a nice response either way.

23. Anaheim Ducks — It is downright stunning that a team that lost 12 games in a row, 13 out of 15, and has a minus-29 goal differential on the season is still anywhere near a playoff spot. Have to imagine that is the season goes on they settle more into the lottery pack than the playoff pack.

24. Philadelphia Flyers — Positive signs for the Flyers include Carter Hart looking good in net and Nolan Patrick starting to heat up offensively. They could be difference-makers in the very near future.

25. Edmonton Oilers — Placing Ryan Spooner on waivers is just another reminder as to how bad the roster management of this team has been. What a waste.

[Related: Oilers shuffle more deck chairs, waive Spooner and Rattie]

26. Chicago Blackhawks — Patrick Kane is still scoring at an elite level, Jonathan Toews is having one of the best seasons of his career, and Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome are two young players that look to be emerging on cheap contracts. There are some positives here. The negatives are pretty much everything else.

27. Florida Panthers — With every loss coach Bob Boughner seems to call out his big-money players more and more. Can’t imagine that will be very impactful for very long.

28. Ottawa Senators — The Senators seem determined to get Matt Duchene re-signed, and that leads to a very big question: Why? As in, why would he want to re-sign there, and why are the Senators going to probably overpay a 29-year-old forward to be a part of a rebuilding team that is probably years away from being relevant again? The only logical answer here is that with the salary floor they have to pay someone.

29. New Jersey Devils — Without Taylor Hall in the lineup there just is not much here.

30. Los Angeles Kings — Their 7-1 loss to the Avalanche over the weekend was as ugly as it gets.

31. Detroit Red Wings — This will be the first time since the early 1980s that the Red Wings will have missed the playoffs three years in a row. Given the state of the roster and the current rebuild it’s worth wondering how many years this particular streak will continue.

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 are red-hot, mostly with Bob on the bench

3 Comments

Sometimes, when locker room drama spills out into the mainstream, the star in question will silence murmurs with great play. Other times, things will fall apart altogether.

In the case of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets have been prospering ever since Bob dealt with that unofficial suspension, but it really hasn’t had much to do with Bobrovsky.

[Blue Jackets sit Bobrovsky; Bob addresses the incident, his future]

Instead, the Blue Jackets have largely feasted on the improving play of Joonas Korpisalo, and dynamite work from the top line (maybe “The Bread Line?”) of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Cam Atkinson.

Consider the last week-plus for Korpisalo, with some overlap from the “incident,” which was Bob not returning to the Blue Jackets’ bench after being pulled last week against Tampa:

Jan. 4: 14 saves in relief appearance against Carolina, no goals allowed
Jan. 8: The night of the “incident,” Korpisalo stops all eight shots against Tampa Bay.
Jan. 10: Makes 35 saves as Columbus beats Nashville in OT, with Bob fever at a high pitch.
Jan. 12: Korpisalo only allows one goal as Columbus beats Washington 2-1 in OT
Jan. 13: Bob’s lone appearance since the kerfuffle. Columbus wins, but the score was 7-5, so it’s tough to give Bobrovsky overwhelming credit.
Jan. 15: Korpisalo and the Blue Jackets cruise to a 4-1 win against the Devils.

This strong play hasn’t gone unnoticed by John Tortorella, as he discussed when asked about what he’s seen in Korpisalo:

“It’s what I don’t see in him,” Tortorella said. “Just no extra movement. He just looks confident …”

On one level, it’s a little awkward that the Blue Jackets are on a hot streak, mostly with Bobrovsky on the bench. It’s sort of a twisted take on “living well is the best revenge.”

But the delightful thing is just how fun certain elements are turning out to be.

Take, for instance, a post-win ritual. For a while, Nick Foligno and Korpisalo would exchange ill-advised, but very “hockey” headbutts when the backup would get a W:

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline has been chronicling this development (sub required), including this amusing quote from Foligno earlier in 2018-19.

“I don’t really know where that came from,” Foligno said. “But I kinda like it. It’s good to rough Korpi up a little bit.”

Yet, with Korpisalo winning three of the four games on the Blue Jackets’ current four-game winning streak, even reckless hockey players took a step back on thought of the conkies.

In case you’re not fluent in Hockeylish, “conkies” are apparently concussions, and the two finally put a stop to it after Tuesday’s win against New Jersey. Their new celebration might need some more time in the oven, which is something even Korpisalo admitted.

Yeah, that wasn’t too great, unless Korpisalo and Foligno were actually doing a high-level impression of that “Step Brothers” scene where Will Ferrell and Adam Scott clearly don’t know how to hug each other.

That jovial atmosphere extends to the little things in life, like the team being overjoyed by the prospect of no practice, like conky-fearing Allen Iversons:

It’s remarkable that Korpisalo’s hot streak has merely pushed him to a .902 save percentage on the season, and Bobrovsky hasn’t been nailing his contract year either, with just a .903 save percentage in 2018-19.

Such a kerfuffle underscores an interesting thought: this team is jockeying with the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division crown even with subpar, and sometimes distracting goaltending.

A blazing-hot top line is a big reason why.

While a heating up Korpisalo makes a Bobrovsky trade seem only more inevitable, Panarin’s been proving his value all season long. He’s generated a four-game point and goal streak, generating five goals and two assists for seven points during that span. Panarin’s up to 52 points in 44 games, Dubois has 42 points in 46 contests, and Atkinson has 27 goals (among 48 points), closing in on his career-high of 35.

Imagine what that line (not to mention stellar defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski) could accomplish if that goaltending rises to the occasion?

It’s pretty strange to see the Blue Jackets prosper so much without Bobrovsky in net, but the organization obviously must hope that this is a sign of good things to come.

If not, at least it’s been a fun, unexpected ride for the last week or so.

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.

Holtby won’t return to Capitals game after high stick to eye

via NBC Sports Washington
1 Comment

Plenty of eyes are on the Columbus Blue Jackets’ net on Saturday, yet it’s the Washington Capitals who are suddenly dealing with bigger goalie concerns.

The team announced that Braden Holtby will not return to that game after Cam Atkinson‘s high stick caught Holtby in his eye despite his goalie mask. The Capitals didn’t provide any other information regarding Holtby’s status, beyond that he continues to be evaluated.

NBC Sports Washington has footage of that unlucky moment:

Holtby is a crucial workhorse for the Capitals, so this is obviously worrisome. To state the obvious, vision is crucial for a goalie. (Holtby’s also been borderline meme-worthy when it comes to preparing for games by getting on the ice and running through rapid-eye movements.)

This wasn’t the only injury scare for Washington, as Alex Ovechkin missed some time earlier in the contest. He appears to be OK, which isn’t surprising because Ovechkin sometimes seems borderline-indestructible. It’s something to monitor, at least, because there are moments where a player will ride the adrenaline of a game to its conclusion, only to realize that an injury was more serious than expected.

On the bright side, Pheonix Copley has played pretty well for Washington this season, so maybe he can hold down the fort.

The Blue Jackets decided to start Joonas Korpisalo instead of Sergei Bobrovsky in this game, drawing jeers about possibly not moving on. Then again, Korpi won his last start, so maybe John Tortorella is merely riding the hot hand?

Also of note: Markus Nutivaara made an outstanding breakout pass to set up this Cam Atkinson goal:

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a late 1-1 goal to send the game into overtime, but Artemi Panarin ripped a power-play one-timer by Copley to give Columbus a 2-1 OT win. So a small winning streak for Korpisalo, but one would think that Bob will close off the Blue Jackets’ back-to-back against the Rangers on Sunday.

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.

Bobrovsky wants to move on from incident, but questions linger

4 Comments

Considering how tight-lipped NHL players can be even about the most mundane subjects, Sergei Bobrovsky deserves credit for being patient with the media in addressing the incident that essentially prompted the Columbus Blue Jackets to unofficially suspend him for Thursday’s eventual win against the Predators.

Of course, this is the NHL and Jim Lites isn’t involved, so Bobrovsky’s comments aren’t the most candid, prompting us to read way, way too much into things.

As it turns out, there are definitely some interesting questions and non/semi-answers that linger in the air, even as Bobrovsky wants to “move on.”

(Warning: do not take a shot for every time that phrase is uttered. This isn’t “Mad Men,” you can’t drink like that at lunch time.)

To review and to overthink things:

  • Most directly, Bobrovsky explained that he let his emotions get to him regarding Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Lightning.

Bob seemed to say that he “cleaned”/cleared the air, and began the festival of move-ons.

(By the way, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen joined that party, as he told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun: “Matter resolved, we are moving on.”)

Bobrovsky then said it would stay in the room, which follows the pattern of the Blue Jackets handling the situation in the vaguest way possible.

  • One big eyebrow-raiser came when Bobrovsky asked (around the 1:15 mark) if he wanted to stay in Columbus for the rest of the year.

“Well, I am here.” Bobrovsky said. “And I will play here. I will do my best as I’ve done for this team, this organization, for these fans, for this city. I’ve been working hard, and I will continue to do that.”

Interesting semi-answer, right?

This does little to curb speculation that Bobrovsky wants out of Columbus, and might not be happy. Elliotte Friedman speculated as much during an appearance on Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup on Friday, reporting that Bobrovsky has been “unhappy all year.”

  • When asked if he thought the suspension was right, Bob merely said “It doesn’t matter” and essentially what happened, happened. (And, yes, that he wants to move on.)

It’s a professional response, yet he’s not exactly absolving the organization of criticism there. Interesting.

  • One of the funnier moments came when Bobrovsky looked perplexed around the 2:22 mark. He was asked if anything came back to a different loss to Tampa Bay, which was an 8-2 defeat way back on Oct. 18. Fun comic relief, if you’re a Blue Jackets fan wiping sweat from your brow right now.
  • It remains unclear if there’s a rift with coach John Tortorella.

When asked if his relationship is the same with Tortorella as it had been in past seasons, Bob said “Torts is Torts. He’s an honest guy … and will do what he believes his best for the team.”

That’s nice, but what about what he’s doing for the starting goalie?

***

This incident is prominent not just because of the air of mystery surrounding why Bob was suspended, and not even because Torts can be one of the most entertaining coaches in the NHL when it comes to comical meltdowns and golden one-liners.

It’s fascinating because of just how unusual this situation is.

Bobrovsky is a two-time Vezina winner, yet Bob and the Blue Jackets haven’t won a single playoff series. Bobrovsky and star winger Artemi Panarin are on expiring contracts, so the team is in an extremely tough spot, especially if free vodka for life, free dental work, and an extension aren’t enough to keep Panarin around.

Losing Bobrovsky for nothing isn’t ideal, especially if the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals once again frustrate the Blue Jackets in the playoffs. Then again, what happens if Columbus trades away Bob? While he hasn’t been his world-stopping self in 2018-19, Joonas Korpisalo hasn’t exactly looked like the goalie of the future they were hoping for.

The Blue Jackets are dealing with an extreme set of challenging circumstances here, and while Bobrovsky technically says more or less the right things, it’s tough to argue that he’s actually happy right now.

Such happiness absolutely matters because Bobrovsky could shoot down potential trades with his no-movement clause. Yeah.

Whether the Blue Jackets like it or not, this matter is far from resolved.

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 to sit Sergei Bobrovsky after unspecified ‘incident’

12 Comments

As the Columbus Blue Jackets look to turn things around after dropping two of their last three games, they will be without goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky Thursday night when they host the Nashville Predators.

The team announced just before their morning skate that Bobrovsky was basically being suspended for something that the club wouldn’t go into detail about.

From Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen:

“There are certain expectations and values that we have established for our players that define our culture. An incident occurred in which Sergei failed to meet those expectations and values, so we made the decision that he would not be with the team for tonight’s game. This is an internal matter and we will have no further comment at this time.”

Head coach John Tortorella didn’t elaborate Thursday morning, simply saying “The release will speak for itself,” and did not indicate if Bobrovsky would be back in net Saturday night against Washington. He is expected to be on the ice for Friday’s practice if a morning meeting with Kekalainen goes well, reports Aaron Portzline of The Athletic.

This was already going to be a dicey year for Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets since the goaltender can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and he hasn’t given any indication he’s willing to re-sign. And with the team in the mix of the Metropolitan Division playoff picture, it wasn’t as easy as trading him away over letting him walk for free.

But will whatever this situation is precipitate a move? Bobrovsky has a full no-movement clause, per Cap Friendly, so he can control his destination if a trade is in the offing before the Feb. 25 deadline. But unless Kekalainen is getting a goaltender that he feels can help his team on the same level, this situation will likely have to be sorted out as the Blue Jackets eye a deep playoff run.

————

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.