As we reach the All Star break and then a mandatory week off there are some surprises in Columbus this season.
Understanding that the Jackets have played more games that other teams, they own the first wild card position and sit one point back of the NYI and 5 points back of PIT. This is a team that was highly regarded as a lottery pick team (maybe even challenging for #1 pick overall) coming into the season. They have also weathered a slew of injuries to get to this point. With 31 games left they have put themselves in a favorable position.
The Jackets top point man is PLD with 38 points (T-62 NHL). To put that in perspective the league leader is McDavid with 76 points. That is exactly twice as many points as PLD. Panarin is 5th in scoring with 68 points, but the Rangers find themselves in 25 overall in the league with 50 points and a 23-21-4 record. Oliver Bjorkstrand leads the teams in goals (and has been red hot coming back) with 16 (T-58 NHL). David Pastrnak of BOS leads the league with 37 goals, 21 more than Bjork.
But the Jackets are getting it done where it counts, the Win column. Which leads me to...
This was the biggest question mark at the start of the season. Jarmo said the CBJ were fine with Korpi and Elvis. Early returns showed otherwise as both struggled, especially Elvis. Korpi was given the lion's share of the work and ended up being selected to the All Star game. When he went down with a knee injury the Jackets faithful (myself included) believed doom was imminent. Elvis has been shocking the NHL with his play since being given the full time gig. At one stretch he had 3 shutouts in 4 games and is currently riding a 5-game winning streak.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the defense here. Part of goaltending is facing shots you are able to save. The CBJ defense does a great job of funneling play to low percentage scoring areas. They also block a ton of shots. Both Jones and Savard are in the top 5 of the NHL in this category with 100+ blocked shots each. It makes a difference. Those saying we have a glut of defense and should trade Savard, shame on you. This man is a heart-and-soul-guy who quietly does his job every night, taking shots off every part of his body. Preventing goals is just as important as scoring them people.
The MOST surprising is the standings. I know that there are 31 more games and anything can happen, including a melt down. But, given the horrible start, questionable early goaltending and lack of goal production, it is hard to believe the December and January results the CBJ have put up. This team doesn't seem to be slowing down or content with their spot, they seem hungry.
Others are beginning to notices as well. In the latest release of the NHL.com Super 16 the Jackets were ranked #10. All but one of the writers had them in their top 16, one as high as #6.
Things to watch for
1. With the break comes relaxation and maybe a reflection on how 'good' this team has been. Hopefully the players can re-focus after the break and continue this run of good play.
2. The return of Korpisalo. This begs the question of who's net is it? Both tenders have thrived when they were the undisputed #1. What happens if they split time?
3. The end of a parade of back up goalies. The CBJ opponents have been putting out their backup goalies when they face Columbus. In January, the Jackets faced back up goalies in 7 of the 11 games. To the credit of the Jackets, they have beat whoever they were facing. But, given their rise, this is likely to end very soon.
Good Luck (enjoy the break) and Go Jackets