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ANALYSIS: Bjorkstrand, Werenski leading way for Blue Jackets

Point streaks just the tip of the iceberg for their strong play

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Monday night's slog notwithstanding -- it was just one of those games that seemed bound to be a grind, as head coach John Tortorella called it -- the Blue Jackets have found their offensive touch of late. 

And one of the reasons is the play of Oliver Bjorkstrand. 

On the surface, the 24-year-old Dane has been really good of late, with two goals and five assists in his last four games for a total of seven points. He's also been solid all season, with six goals and seven assists for 13 points. And his singular tally in the Ottawa game that proved to be the winner highlighted what was a game full of scoring chances for the winger. 

But go a little deeper and his stats all season have been tremendous. When it comes to 5-on-5 play, Bjorkstrand has been excellent at helping the team controlling possession, as the Blue Jackets have 52.75 percent of all shot attempts when he's on the ice and 55.35 percent of shots on goal, per Natural Stat Trick. 

Going even deeper, the Jackets also have 59.33 percent of expected goals with Bjorkstrand on the ice, best among players who have been with the team all season, as well as 57.99 percent of scoring chances and 59.38 percent of high-danger chances. And he's not even getting a huge benefit from zone starts, as his offensive zone and defensive zone start numbers are about 50-50. 

Video: DET@CBJ: Bjorkstrand sizzles home top-shelf PPG

In other words, no matter how you slice it, Bjorkstrand has been really, really good for the Blue Jackets.  

"It's been all year, and honestly back to last year," head coach John Tortorella said of the winger's improved play. "He just plays harder on the puck. He plays harder on the wall. He's just been a harder player, and I think when players do those things as far as fighting for pucks, the puck tends to follow you around. He's been a really good player for us. That's been pretty consistent since the last quarter of last year right on through." 

In fact, Bjorkstrand has 15 goals in his last 33 regular-season games, a pace of 37 goals over an 82-game season. He leads the Blue Jackets with 18 goals since last year's trade deadline. 

Tortorella said the Blue Jackets have come to expect that type of performance out of Bjorkstrand, who was drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft and lit up the WHL his final year with 50 goals in 69 games. The goal-scoring has always been in him, but as he gets older and more experienced, it's starting to come out in droves. 

For that, Bjorkstrand credited the same things Tortorella pointed to as far as work ethic. 

"Battles along the boards and getting out of the zone helps you get more possession time, and when everybody does it, it gets you going," he said. "When you're moving your feet, you get some more chances. That's just my game. I have to be strong in those areas for me to have success." 

Werenski shining, too: Another catalyst to the Blue Jackets' goal-scoring and power-play success of late has been defenseman Zach Werenski. 

Not only is he setting career highs with a seven-game point streak that includes three goals and nine points, he's also tied the Blue Jackets' record for the longest point streak by a defenseman. 

Of course, that's what Werenski brings, as the 2015 first-round pick has always been noted for his offense. Since bursting onto the scene with a CBJ rookie record 47 points in 2016-17, he's averaged 43 points per season. 

This year, he's topping that, with a 6-9-15 line that projects to career highs of 21 goals and 53 points over 82 games.  

"I feel good with it right now," he said of his offensive abilities. "It's something I pride myself on. It's something I work a lot on in the summertime, having the puck on my stick and making plays. As of late, it's been good for me." 

Video: STL@CBJ: Werenski wins it in OT for Blue Jackets

Where Werenski occasionally catches flak from fans is for his defense, which often happens for defensemen who try to provide offense and sometimes get caught with the puck going the other way. But looking at Natural Stat Trick, he's above the break-even mark in shot attempts, shots on goal, expected goals and scoring chances at 5-on-5 for the whole season.  

Over the last six games, in which the Blue Jackets are 4-1-1, the Blue Jackets have 54.63 percent of shot attempts, 55.20 percent of shots on goal, 57.86 percent of expected goals, 56.10 percent of high-danger chances and an 8-5 edge in goals scored with Werenski on the ice. That doesn't include his standout power-play performance as well, which includes seven goals when he's been on the ice in the last six games including the OT winner Nov. 15 vs. St. Louis.  

"I think for me it's just not forcing anything," he said of his improved defensive play this year, especially of late. "I think last year, early on, I was trying to force offense and at the end of the day it was just coming back to haunt me. I was chasing a lot of plays - 2-on-1s, 3-on-2s. I was trying to do too much, almost I was out of position a lot. 

"This year, I'm trying to let it come to me more, not forcing anything. If it's there, take it. If not, live to play another day." 

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