All of a sudden, here we are at the midway point of the NHL season.
The Blue Jackets, scuffling a bit and frustrated with a lack of results just a fortnight ago, have found some confidence and are playing a determined brand of hockey. They've won three straight after tonight's 2-1 overtime defeat of the Vancouver Canucks, and have picked up at least one point in five consecutive games.
Of course, things may change between now and the time you actually read this, but as I type, the Blue Jackets sit four points back of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference. Seems crazy to think, given where they were not too long ago, but in talking with players after the game, they feel like they've turned a corner.
And it's not purely results-driven, either; Matt Calvert (tonight's overtime hero) talked at length about what it takes for a young team to win consistently, and to do the necessary things on a nightly basis so they learn how to close games out. The best teams in the NHL are both hard-working and opportunistic, and often times one can be a by-product of the other.
The Blue Jackets have shown an opportunistic nature lately, and it's been fun to watch. Given chances to put games away, they've done so. Think back to Sunday afternoon against the Avalanche; Colorado turns the puck over in neutral ice, the Blue Jackets draw a penalty and then win the game on that power play.
They hung tough and stuck it out through 65 minutes on Tuesday night against Edmonton and prevailed in the shootout, and tonight, shut down a potent offensive team and got a big effort from the netminder en route.
Let's break it down, whatd'ya say?
1. ON THE CASE: Todd Richards has said repeatedly that he's looking for one of his two goaltenders to step up and take charge, and it looks as if Bobrovsky is doing just that. His third period save on Jannik Hansen's shorthanded breakaway was as clutch as they come, and it gave his teammates a lift, as well. He made 34 saves on the night and kept his club solid at home base, and appears to be in a good groove right now.
2. CALVERT STRIKES: We've talked about it -- Calvert has been one of the Blue Jackets' best players this season and he's brought it on a game-to-game basis. Richards called his overtime goal "a great individual play," and it wasn't the only one he made tonight. His work down low in the offensive zone doesn't get enough attention, and for not being the biggest guy on the ice, he's proven to be a difficult defensive assignment. The game-winner was his fourth goal of the season and his first OT winner as a pro.
3. COMMITMENT: Teams say it a lot, but the Blue Jackets have done a great job sticking to their systems and being committed in all three zones. It's the little things, too, and when you do them with regularity and commitment, they seem to add up. The puck battles, staying with defensive assignments, being responsible on the back-check...there's a laundry list of items that come with the territory of being a competitive group, and the Blue Jackets are on the right track.