Blue Jackets Getting Hot at the Right Time
By Patrick Hoffman
When it comes to both getting into the playoffs and then having success in them, it is all about which teams are playing their best hockey at the right time.
One team that is playing extremely well right now is the Columbus Blue Jackets. The timing of their hot streak is absolutely perfect given that the postseason is just a few short weeks away.
As of this writing (March 20, 2018), the Blue Jackets find themselves in the first wild card in the Eastern Conference spot with 85 points. In the Metropolitan Division, the team is two points behind the second place Pittsburgh Penguins and four points behind the division leading Washington Capitals.
What is important here in terms of the standings is that they are up three points on the team that holds the second wild card spot, the New Jersey Devils, and are five points up on the Florida Panthers, who are three points out of the second wild spot. The club has found a way to build a cushion and at this juncture of the season, every point they can get will go a long way in securing a playoff berth.
This is a team that has been inconsistent most of the season. They have had stretches of great play where they look like the team they did last season and there are other times when they look like a club that does not belong in the playoff conversation.
Currently (As of March 20, 2018), the team is on the right side in terms of how they are playing. They have won eight straight (As of March 20, 2018) and are looking at a somewhat favorable schedule with games against non-playoff teams like the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, and Detroit Red Wings.
There are a few reasons why this team has been able to find some consistency at the most important stretch of the season. One reason, believe it or not, is team head coach John Tortorella.
Tortorella has made sure not to get too negative and has his team playing playoff hockey right now. He may be tough and demanding, but he does know how to press the right buttons and right now, his keyboard is all lit up with wins.
Another reason why the team is playing better is that they have cut their goals against down a bit. The team is currently (As of March 20, 2018) ninth in the league in that category and in order for them to continue gaining points down the stretch, their defense and goaltending will need to continue to be strong.
Speaking of keeping the puck out of the net, team starting masked man Sergei Bobrovsky is once again doing everything he can to help his team. The 29-year-old puck stopper 32-21-5 on the season with a 2.41 goals against average, a .921 save percentage, and four shutouts.
Like he always does, Bobrovsky is starting to steal games for his hockey club. He always gives his team a chance to pick-up two points and if he can continue to do that, this team should be in a good position to get into the playoffs for the second straight year.
Lastly, the Blue Jackets are starting to get consistent offensive output from Artemi Panarin. Panarin, 26, leads the team with 64 points (22 goals and 42 assists) and is dangerous every time he is on the ice.
Should the team make the playoffs this season, the Blue Jackets will have a true offensive star for the first time. Panarin has great hands, terrific speed, and a great shot and every time he is on the ice, he is able to create scoring opportunities, something that will obviously be needed come April.
With the way their conference has been this season, the Blue Jackets have an opportunity to make some noise when it matters most. Now, they just need to go out and do it.
Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.