There's no denying that there's a buzz around the Columbus Blue Jackets right now. The team has won four games in a row, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky
has won five consecutive starts and the team is off to a 5-1-0 start in 2014. Despite running into several hot teams along the way - Carolina's goaltender Anton Khudobin suffered his first loss of the season at Nationwide Arena after a 6-0-0 start (0.943 save percentage, 1.84 GAA) and a streaking Tampa Bay squad that had points in eight of 10 road games coming into Nationwide - the Blue Jackets have confidence in what they're doing, and it shows.
"Winning is so much more fun, especially winning consistently," defenseman James Wisniewski
. "It's so much fun to come into the rink every day, getting better and playing together. We're confident right now and we're showing that we can compete with some of these teams who are in playoff position right now."
So what areas are the Jackets excelling in, aside from the win-loss column? Let's take a look.Goals and scoring
It's simple: out-score your opponents, win hockey games. The Blue Jackets have done just that, outscoring opponents by a 20-14 margin in the six games of 2014. With five goals on the power play, a shorthanded goal and a penalty shot, the Blue Jackets are finding a variety of ways to score, and it's paying off. They're also getting points from many different players, as evidenced by the chart below showing the Blue Jackets' scoring leaders in 2014:
|player name / position |
|GP ||Goals ||assists ||points |
|james wisniewski (d) ||6 ||1 ||5 ||6 |
|mark letestu (C) ||6 ||4 ||1 ||5 |
|ryan murray (D) ||6 ||0 ||5 ||5 |
|cam atkinson (rw) ||6 ||3 ||1 ||4 |
|Nathan horton (RW) ||6 ||2 ||2 ||4 |
|brandon dubinsky (c) ||6 ||2 ||2 ||4 |
The majority of goals scored in January came in the second period (8), a period in which the Blue Jackets had previously struggled. Going into January, the Blue Jackets were out-scored in the middle period by a 40-30 margin. This month, they've out-scored opponents 8-6.
Shots and shooting
The Blue Jackets are taking more shots on goal now than they had previously, averaging 28.7 shots per game as opposed to the 27.8 shots per game they carried through the first 40 games. Though they have been out-shot in every game except one, where they matched Tampa Bay's shot total of 28, they're making their shots count.
Below is a chart of the Blue Jackets' goals and shots by period, compared to their opponents in the past six matchups:
| ||1 ||2 ||3 ||OT/so ||total |
|CBJ SOG / period ||47 ||58 ||61 ||6 ||172 |
|opp sog / period ||54 ||84 ||80 ||0 ||209 |
| || || || || ||(-37) |
|cbj goals / period ||5 ||8 ||6 ||1 ||20 |
|opp goals / period ||2 ||6 ||6 ||0 ||14 |
| || || || || ||(+6) |
|cbj shooting % / period ||10.6% ||13.8% ||9.8% ||--- ||11.6% |
|opp shooting % / period ||3.7% ||7.2% ||7.5% || ||7.7% |
In the first six games of 2014, the special teams units are a clear-cut sign of success. The power play boasts a 26.32 conversion percentage, scoring five goals on 19 opportunities. The Blue Jackets also have a pretty impressive shooting percentage of 29.4 percent on the power play (five goals on 17 shots).
The penalty kill unit is posting improved numbers, too. Columbus has killed 19 of 23 shorthanded situations, including a 1:03 5-on-3 chance against the Hurricanes, for a 83 percent kill rate. The Blue Jackets have also allowed opponents just 21 shots on goal, and Mark Letestu
scored shorthanded in the win against the Winnipeg Jets.
The key to each of the special teams' success is the makeup of the units. Ryan Murray
and Wisniewski see the most minutes night in and night out on the point, averaging about 3:26 power play time on ice per game. They've also been on the ice for three of the five power play goals the Blue Jackets have scored in those six games. Wisniewski has had the most shots on goal on the man advantage with six, and while he has not scored any power play goals, his blasts from the point are finding the net and lead to rebound opportunities for his teammates. He also has two power play assists as a direct result of his playmaking role.
The Blue Jackets have also committed more penalties during their 5-1-0 run (27-23), but have had fewer total total penalty minutes (62-57).
Another area that has had a huge impact on the Blue Jackets' win streak is consistent goaltending. Since Bobrovsky's been back from his injury, he's won five games - four of which took place in 2014. This calendar year, Bobrovsky has played 185 minutes, allowed just five goals (three of which occurred when the Blue Jackets were shorthanded), stopped 101 of 106 shots faced and recorded a shutout. His goals against average (1.58) and save percentage (0.953) have him on track to post similar numbers to his Vezina-winning 2012-13 season where his performance in goal powered the Blue Jackets to a playoff push and a 19-5-5 record.Curtis McElhinney
has also strung together positive performances in goal for the Blue Jackets. He too recorded a shutout in one of his three starts, and has a 3.00 goals-against average and a 0.914 save percentage. He's allowed just nine goals on 102 shots in 180 minutes of ice time.Nathan Horton
Upon his activation off injured reserve, Horton's impact was immediate as he scored in his first game as a Blue Jacket (a power play goal). The power play has found new life as Horton rotates between the first and second power play units each night, averaging 2:20 per game on the man advantage. He was on the ice for three of the Blue Jackets' five power play goals scored in January, and that number will only continue to rise as he continues to battle in front of the net for loose rebounds and screens goaltenders.
The Blue Jackets are also feeding off his positive attitude. He's always smiling, whether it's at the end of a tough practice or a long shift.
"He comes in every day with a smile on his face and comes here to work every day," said Matt Calvert
. "He's a great team guy, he's well-liked and he's talented. He pushes us to be better."
Also, a key statistic to note: the Blue Jackets are 5-0-0 when Horton records a point. That's a huge indication of just how important Horton is to the success of this team right now.The road ahead
With 36 games to play in the regular season and with the intense jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Blue Jackets know they have to keep a foot on the gas pedal if they want to be in playoff contention come April.
"We have to win a lot of hockey games here," said Calvert. "It's not going to come easy. We're going after a playoff spot and that's going to be a battle and it'll be a big race to the finish."Boone Jenner
agreed with Calvert, but said that the team has the confidence to get the job done and keep up the level and playing style they have shown so far in 2014.
"We believe in ourselves and what we're doing right now," said Jenner. "That's been the difference. We know we're a good team and that we can keep this going."