Rather than recap the awesome win against Detroit last night, I thought it would be a good time to consider the Blue Jackets over the last ten games. The new look roster, despite being injury ravaged at every point of this season, has managed to generate life on the ice, producing an enjoyable game experience for even the more casual fan. They have taken a talent scattered albatross of mediocrity (see: 2011/2012 season) and transformed into a committed, grindy, “never say die” attitude.
I want to start with their record. In their last ten games, Columbus has won six of them, lost two in overtime, and lost two in regulation. Of those games, the only time they won or lost by more than one goal was their 3-0 defeat of the Red Wings on Saturday. Looking back even further, the Blue Jackets have completed 17 of 26 games this season where the margin of victory was one goal. When was the last time we could talk about this team and consider them in 77% of their games all the way to the final buzzer?
Next, and my favourite statistic right now, is their penalty kill. Stymy in ever way, the Blue Jackets had a nine straight game without a powerplay goal against snapped during a 5 on 3 yesterday. It is hard to contain the likes of Franzen, Zetterberg, and Datsyuk. This impressive streak is something we as Blue Jackets fans are not used to, nor are we used to the 85.9% success rate of the PK which places them 5th in the NHL. It is not only a testament to the tenacity of our defensive forwards and defenseman during those stretches, it is a testament to the stability and success rate of one Sergei Bobrosvky.
Bob, as we affectionately call him, has been nothing short of stellar in his recent performances. He has been making all the saves you expect your goalie to make, and then going above and beyond by stopping some of shots you expect even the most expensive goalies to let through. Forget the massive sliding pad saves in overtime, forget the calm, collected saves on the breakaways, and you still come out impressed.
Bobrovsky’s month of March is nothing short of magnificent. His save percentage over the five games played this month sits at a paltry .969 and his goals against average is a mere 0.80. Surely a candidate for NHL.com and ESPN honours as one of the top performers of late, this type of play is exactly what the Blue Jackets team needs, especially one with limited offensive talent.
But where the Jackets may lack in overall talent, they have more than made up for in players like Matt Calvert. #MattyHustle has become a strong visible presence when he is on the ice, skating at full speed for most of his shifts, creating turnovers, and scoring big time goals in both overtime and the shootout in the past week alone. His personal highlight reel is growing: with an awesome takeaway leading to Atkinson’s goal against Detroit, his overtime winner against Vancouver that saw him skate through middle and go short side high glove on Schneider, and then his shootout goal that put Howard’s right hand turn signal on while he went the other way. In fact, let’s get it on video (with the Wings announcers verbally high fiving him):
What Calvert may have lacked in the 2011-2012 season, he has more than made up for this year. A staple on the roster, a name and number the opposing bench will begin to recognize as a threat to their possession game, and what appear to be awesome hands with the puck, Calvert has been a true diamond in the rough for the Blue Jackets.
While there are a number of Blue Jackets players who deserve the nod, the last guy I want to talk about is Nick Foligno. Acquired from Ottawa in exchange for a personal favourite, Marc Methot, Foligno had a steep hill to climb before he got into my good graces. It really only took a game or two to realize that Nick has something special on the ice, especially with the puck on his stick. His stick handling is great, and seems to improve when he is in a crowd of opposing players, notably in his coast to coast romp that nearly lead to a goal early in the season.
Each game, he attempts to generate offense by going through defenders rather than around them. It is a style of play that takes quite a bit of talent to be successful, and Nick has shown signs of that success over and over again. While he isn’t blowing up the stats sheet offensively, his puck luck will improve as he has deserved goals on countless occasions. He also appears to get extremely excited for his teammates when they succeed, and that is a great thing to see.
This is no longer an individual game in Columbus. This roster has slowly built a hard nosed identity that causes havoc for the opposition with and without the puck. The players have visibly bought into Richards’ coaching style, and they are reaping the rewards with tight victories in regulation, overtime, and the shootout. For the fans, it could not be a better time to watch this team. They sit at arguably the weakest talent point of the franchise, yet have been extremely competitive with the league’s best teams…and folks, it’s only going to get better.
Carry the Flag!