The Columbus Blue Jackets were, by far, the worst team in the NHL last year. They were robbed of a first overall pick, which went to the Edmonton Oilers, and are currently waiting for their second overall pick, Ryan Murray, to make a full recovery from his recently-successful shoulder surgery.
Coming into this season, the Blue Jackets were ready to prove that they are much better than their 2011-12 record suggests.
The Blue Jackets are 8-12-3-1, tied for worst in the Western Conference and second-worst in the NHL. However, they have pushed their last five games to overtime and have won three straight. The most interesting part is the Blue Jackets sit four points out of a playoff spot.
In their last 10, the Blue Jackets are 4-4-2, and much of this success is due to the emergence of three young players: Sergei Bobrovsky, Ryan Johansen and Matt Calvert.
Bobrovsky, as it would seem, has stolen the starting gig from struggling Steven Mason for the time being. He has played in four consecutive games, winning three, and has posted a record of 6-6-3 so far this season. On a Columbus team that continues to struggle from the back end, Bobo has been almost spectacular for the Blue Jackets. In his most recent outing against the Vancouver Canucks, he stopped 34-of-35 shots and earned the win in overtime. If he continues his strong play, look for the up-and-coming netminder to get the starter's chunk of games for the remainder of the season.
On the offensive side, the production of Ryan Johansen has been evident throughout the recent success of the Blue Jackets, and coach Todd Richards seems to be gaining more faith in the youngster, too. Since his recent call-up, Johansen has solidified a top-six center role, gained some time on the power play, and shown good chemistry with Nick Foligno, Vinny Prospal and R.J. Umberger. In the month of March, Johansen currently has three assists in four games, one of which came on the power play. However, if Johansen hopes to keep his role in Columbus afloat, he must continue to show his skills at the NHL level or risk another stint with the Springfield Falcons.
Lastly, Matt Calvert, though his statistics are not overly impressive, has been a significant part of the Blue Jackets' top-six unit. He is positioned on Artem Anisimov's wing on both the power play and even-strength situations, while also showing flashes of a top-line player. If there's any way to prove that quality trumps quantity, Calvert did just that against the Canucks last night. He scored a gorgeous goal in overtime to get the Blue Jackets a win over a very tough opponent. Nevertheless, his beautiful game-winner was his first in six games, so he will need to pick up the pace if he plans to keep his top-six role with the team.
While the recent success of the Blue Jackets is something to get excited about, they have played the most games in the Western Conference and will need to compile a very good record down the stretch to have any chance at the postseason.
Wouldn't it be nice to hear more of "JACKETS WIN, JACKETS WIN, JACKETS WIN"?
Though a playoff berth could be a stretch, the Blue Jackets' success is indicative of a much brighter future.
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