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Details keep Blue Jackets on track

by Kristyn Repke / Columbus Blue Jackets

After opening the season 5-10-0, the Blue Jackets are beginning to turn the corner.

In their last 17 games, the Blue Jackets have improved their record to 14-15-3, going 9-5-3 in that span, including a 5-1-1 record in their last seven home games and 6-4-0 in their last 10. Though they're not yet above .500 on the season at the moment, they are making strides in the right direction.

"It seems like right now we're starting to figure it out," said center Ryan Johansen. "We have to keep winning on a consistent basis and keep winning consecutive games. That's not easy to do in this league and it's a big challenge for our hockey club, but we're on the right track."

What have been the keys to success in the second half of the first 32 games this season? Let's take a look.

Penalty Kill
Through their first 15 games, the Blue Jackets were 78.4 percent on the penalty kill--good enough for 24th in the NHL. Fast forward to 32 games and the Blue Jackets have climbed to an 84.6 percentage in their past 17 games for a season total of 81.7 percent success rate in shorthanded situations. Dependable penalty killers Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson have averaged about 2:45 of ice time when shorthanded, which is top-35 in the NHL for defensemen. Forward Brandon Dubinsky has made a big difference in man-down situations. He's won face-offs when it matters, going 53.3 percent in the circle on the penalty kill to ensure that the Blue Jackets clear the zone and run time off the clock. He also has two shorthanded goals this season and three shorthanded points, both of which tie him for first in the NHL in those statistics.

The Blue Jackets have also stepped up their physical play in the last 17 games. After averaging just 26.46 hits per game through Nov. 8, which put them near the middle of the league, the Blue Jackets are averaging 31.94 in their last 17 games played. That puts them at fourth in the NHL with 963 hits (they're also in first place overall with 486 road hits in 16 road games). Blake Comeau has registered 98 hits so far, which is tied for 12th in the league and puts him on pace for 258 which would easily top his career high of 144 hits in a single season (2010-11). The increase in physicality isn't just coming from a small group of guys, either--of the skaters who dress for the Blue Jackets on a given night, about 13 of them will record at least one hit during the course of the game on average.

Power Play
With a 17.3 success rate on the power play, the Blue Jackets found themselves in 18th place and without a lot of offense with the man advantage through the season's first 15 games. Now, they are ninth in the league with a 19.8 power play percentage. The biggest contributers on the Blue Jackets power play this season? Ryan Johansen and RJ Umberger, who lead the team with three power play goals apiece. That isn't to say that the Jackets haven't seen contribution from other members of the team--11 players have recorded at least one point on the PP, five of which have multiple points in a man-up situation.

Blocked Shots
The first half of the season, the Blue Jackets let a lot of pucks get to the net and blocked just an average of 12 shot attempts per game. In the last 16, the Blue Jackets have blocked 14.69 shots, reducing the work for the goalies and increasing the traffic in front of the net.

Still room to improve
The Blue Jackets have not had much luck when it comes to avoiding injuries. The team has lost 119 man games to injury this year alone, which is currently 5th in the NHL behind Anaheim (175), Edmonton (162), Carolina (158) and Pittsburgh (146). They're currently without Nathan Horton, Marian Gaborik, James Wisniewski, Jared Boll and Sergei Bobrovsky, all of which have no definite return dates. With Curtis McElhinney leaving the game early last night and with Ryan Murray ending the night on the bench nursing a late-game injury, that number will continue to climb.

Another area the Blue Jackets can improve upon is in the face-off circle. Though they were top 10 in the NHL after 31 games this season, they won just 38 percent of draws against the Rangers last night, dropping them to 13th overall. They have not been consistent in this area, only winning at least 50 percent of their face-off attempts in their past 17 games.
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