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Stacking up: Metropolitan Division rivals

by Kristyn Repke / Columbus Blue Jackets

On Thursday, the Columbus Blue Jackets played their final Metropolitan Division game before they head into the Olympic break--a 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals. The Jackets will have just eight more divisional games on the schedule before the end of the regular season, including six in their final 12 match-ups.

So how have the Blue Jackets competed in their 22 Metropolitan Division rivalry games thus far, and how do they stack up against divisional teams versus the rest of the NHL? Let's take a look.

Standings and scoring
In those 22 games, the Blue Jackets have accumulated 27 points (13-8-1 record) in the standings. Those are big points in the playoff race, especially when the team is competing with divisional opponents for a minimum of three playoff spots. Their 13 wins are second in the Metropolitan Division only to the Pittsburgh Penguins--a team the Blue Jackets have yet to solve after losing to them in all four meetings they've had so far.

After a slow start to the season by most teams in the division other than the Penguins, the race is heating up. Just six points separate second place from seventh place--a total of six spots. The Blue Jackets currently sit in the fourth spot with 58 points after the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the St. Louis Blues last night, giving them a season total of 59 points.

One big (and somewhat obvious) key to the Blue Jackets' success in accumulating 13 divisional wins? The Jackets have outscored Metropolitan opponents 89-44, which is the best goal differential in the division behind the Penguins. In seven of those games, the Blue Jackets have won by at least three goals and have scored at least four goals in half of their divisional games.

Player performance
A few Blue Jackets players have much better statistics against division rivals than out-of-division opponents. The two players with the biggest differentials? Cam Atkinson and Brandon Dubinsky.

"The points are more important when you play in the division, for sure," said Atkinson. "But I don't change my game play for division games--I come in and get ready to play. I'm fortunate that the points come during big games, but I don't tailor my game to who I play or what game it is."

In 22 division games this season, Atkinson has 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points. His goal and point totals are among the top-10 in the NHL in divisional opponent statistics. His plus-minus rating is tied for first in the league with his teammate, Dubinsky, at plus-16.

Outside of the Metropolitan Division, Atkinson's numbers are not as high. He has just six goals, five assists and 11 points with a -15 rating in 32 games played, making his season totals 17 goals, 14 assists and 31 points. Though he wishes his out of division stats were more consistent, Atkinson is happy he is able to contribute in "big" games.

When asked why he thought his point totals were so different depending on the opponent, Atkinson laughed and said it comes down to the intensity of divisional rivalries and the differences in playing style with the conference switch.

"Rivalry games are more intense, so I think that might have something to do with it," said Atkinson. "In the Eastern conference, [the ice] is a little more open and you have a little more time and space to make plays, and skate the puck in. So far it's been working out for me and for us, so I hope we can just keep that going."

Another player who has stepped up in divisional games is young center Ryan Johansen, who has been a star of the game six times, including the first star three times and the second star twice, amassing 15 divisional points this season--many of which were points on tying and game-winning goals.

Then, there's the goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky has been extremely strong against the Metropolitan teams with eight wins in 13 divisional games (2.29 GAA and a 0.927 save percentage this season). His first game back from a groin injury was a Jan. 6 game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and he was outstanding for the Blue Jackets in stopping nearly 40 shots in regulation, overtime and all three Ranger attempts in the shootout. 

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