The Blue Jackets streak has ended. 16 games of sheer victory, where the Blue Jackets appeared to have one sole mission: prove everybody wrong.
That includes me. I had the Blue Jackets near the bottom of the league with my preseason ratings. Actually, I might have had the Blue Jackets at the absolute bottom. I thought, like many, that the Metropolitan division was too good.
There were too many “better” teams. I thought the Devils were definitely better. I thought the Islanders were better than they are. Same with the Hurricanes. Of course I had the Rangers, Penguins, Capitals, and Flyers as playoff teams.
Then again, I also thought the Maple Leafs needed another year, but they’re currently near playoff position.
The thing is, I didn’t even think the Blue Jackets needed another year. I thought they were a few years away from being a year away. Looking at the team still, I can’t figure out how this team works.
Their best player by far this year is Cam Atkinson, with 38 points. His career high is 53. You can see why critics would say the Blue Jackets’ success is unsustainable.
The other reason critics have for looking down on the Blue Jackets is their power play – they’re scoring on 28.3% of chances. Second place is the Tampa Bay Lightning with 23.8%. Last year’s first place finisher was Anaheim with 23.1%.
While the Blue Jackets started ridiculously hot and have been evening out, they’re still very high, and with their power play percentage dropping, they’re still winning games.
Even if it falls to the much more reasonable 25%, the Blue Jackets have figured out how to score on the power play like nobody else. That’s with journeyman Sam Gagner centering their first unit.
The team shouldn’t be successful. Before the season, analysts and experts would have said that the best player on Columbus was Brandon Saad, and that Nick Foligno might be a trade prospect.
Now, we know a few things more. For instance, I believe that Zach Werenski must be the rookie of the year because he is close to matching Matthews’s and Laine’s point amounts. That’s as a defenseman. Who’s much better in the defensive end than either of the two forwards.
Bobrovsky and McElhinney are both great goalies, but their .930s are also a bit above where they’ll settle.
We also know that John Tortorella isn’t as bad a coach as we thought he was. He did what a good coach does after making a mistake: he adjusts.
He learned that being firm and concrete in believing in grit and “heart” with the US team didn’t payoff, and so he’s using the speed and skill apparently available on the Blue Jackets’ team.
This version of Tortorella is worthy of the Jack Adams, because really the Jackets shouldn’t have been nearly this good. For that, he deserves all the credit. Tortorella has become willing to change, moldable, someone who can actually coach a team to regular season victory.
I still don’t think this Blue Jackets team can win in the playoffs. But they will be going there, even if they go .500 through the rest of the season. So we’ll see, and it’s a possibility that the experts will be proven wrong again.
2017’s shaping up to be another odd sports year.