Up to this point, it’s been an unexpected journey for the Columbus Blue Jackets. They’ve surprised everyone after many thought they would be in the basement yet again this season. With the season just past the halfway point, it’s time to look at the Blue Jackets mid-season report card.
Blue Jackets Mid-Season Report Card
The big difference this season compared to last season is that the Jackets have been able to roll four competent lines. This has helped to increase their depth scoring. Their fourth line this season has combined for 48 even strength points, the third has 34. This is much improved over last year’s bottom six forwards. Through 42 games, there are already five Columbus forwards that have 30 or more points. Nick Foligno is having a bounce back season, and the resurgence of Sam Gagner has helped fill out the forward corps nicely. There are still a couple Jackets that haven’t performed up to expectations so far, and if they get it going, it will only increase the forward grade.
Improving the defense was a main concern last season, which saw the Blue Jackets trade center Ryan Johansen for defenseman Seth Jones. This year the defense has improved even more, with the help of youth stepping up. One of the biggest positives this year compared to last is the increased scoring from the blue line. Through 42 games, the CBJ defensemen have combined for 82 points, led by rookie Zach Werenski. During the entire 2015-16 season, the defense combined for only 118 points. They are well on pace to breaking that mark. In addition to scoring, David Savard and Jack Johnson are both having great seasons. Both are positive players, Johnson for the first time in his career. With the youth movement come some mistakes. There are times when you are reminded that Werenski and Markus Nutivaara are still rookies, but they’ll only get better as they age.
There’s no question that Sergei Bobrovsky has returned to his Vezina-winning form. He’s fourth in goals against average, fourth in save percentage, tied for fifth in shutouts, and first in wins. He’s looked dominant more times than not. That raises the issue of riding Bob too much during the season. Part of the reason he leads in wins is because he’s in the top 10 of games played. The backup position has still been a question mark thus far. Three different players have started in the backup role this season, going a combined 3-3-2. Curtis McElhinney was waived last week, and claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Anton Forsberg looked less than stellar in his only start. It looks like Joonas Korpisalo will be the backup to Bob for now, after he went 1-1 in the back-to-back in Florida this past weekend.
Power Play: A+
Halfway through the season, the Blue Jackets still have the top power play in the league. Although it has come down a bit, they are still about 3% above the second place team. The first power play unit for Columbus has been the main driving force. This unit quarterbacked by Werenski has been hugely successful, with contributions coming from all five players involved. Along with Foligno and Gagner, Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg have been essential in this unit, leading the team in power play points with 19 and 18 respectively. With Wennberg making smart decisions along the half wall and Atkinson camping for the one-timer near the right dot, this unit continues to roll.
Penalty Kill: B+
In the last seven games, the Blue Jackets have only allowed one power play goal. That stretch has been enough to bump their penalty kill to ninth in the league. The hiring of Brad Shaw in the offseason has been instrumental in helping both the defense and the penalty kill. Not only are they killing off penalties with regularity, but they’re able to score short-handed as well. The four short-handed goals scored by the Jackets penalty kill are enough for a tie for third in the league.
The Jackets have looked like a well-rounded team in this first half of the season. They are more than worthy of such a high grade overall. After an historic 16-game winning streak, major media outlets finally started to take notice. Despite dropping a few games lately, they still lead the NHL in points percentage. They’re also still within striking distance of first overall in the Metropolitan division, and league. John Tortorella has his team playing with confidence. This has been the best start in franchise history, which makes for an encouraging Blue Jackets mid-season report card.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com