After weeks of rumor after rumor, Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin...
Can the Columbus Blue Jackets Stay the Hottest Team on Ice?
Quick, can you tell me the hottest team right now in the National Hockey League? No it’s not Chicago, nor Pittsburgh or Anaheim.
It’s the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The men who ‘Carry The Flag’ have won a club record eight consecutive games, the longest winning streak so far in the league, after defeating Philadelphia 5-2 Thursday night at Nationwide Arena as they celebrated their 1,000th regular season game.
Their 26-20-4 record marks just the fourth time in their history that the team is over the .500 mark after 50 games, and if the season ended today, their third place standing in the Metropolitan Division would guarantee them a place in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In the first half of the season, the Jackets were struggling at the bottom of both their division and the Eastern Conference as they struggled scoring goals and had a load of injuries, especially a groin strain to reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobovsky. They also endured a knee injury to their tough guy Jarred Boll and their high scoring forward Marian Gaborik who suffered a fractured collarbone.
When the calendar turned to 2014, the team started to get healthy especially on January 2nd in Phoenix when Nathan Horton, who was the biggest free agent signing by the Jackets this off-season, played his first game in a 2-0 shutout of the Coyotes. In the 10 games he has played, Horton has collected seven points (four goals and three assists).
Bobrovsky came back between the pipes on Janaury 6th in New York against the Rangers and former Blue Jackets star Rick Nash. Although the former face of the Jackets franchise came up with two goals, it was CBJ who left Madison Square Garden with a 4-3 shootout win.
From that point on, the Jackets have not lost with five wins at home and four coming against division opponents. They are 9-1-0 in January going into Saturday night’s home game against Buffalo, the best January ever in club history, and tied for the second for the most wins of any month ever.
One of the keys has been Bobrovsky, who has won his last nine decisions and has a .936 save percentage during that stretch, showing that he is completely healthy after that groin pull against Tampa Bay in early December.
Another key is the offense, which had struggled to light the lamp, has scored 35 goals during the streak and has moved to sixth place in the latest league statistics.
The offense is led by Ryan Johansen, the fourth overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, who leads the team with 19 goals and 18 assists (37 points). He is one of a group of young players the Jackets have drafted or acquired that have been instrumental so far this season.
They include Boone Jenner, a second-round pick in 2011, and Ryan Murray, the second overall pick in the 2012 Entry Draft, who picked up the NHL game rather quickly. David Savard, a fourth-round pick in the 2009 draft, is one of the team leaders in blocked shots and has a +8 rating. Corey Tropp, picked up off waivers from Buffalo, has shown some solid two-way forward play.
Add to that the veteran scoring of Brandon Dubinsky, who has 34 points, and James Wisniewski, who is one of the top defensive scorers so far in the league with 30 points and showing why the Jackets gave him a multi-year contract when he came as a free agent.
There is still a lot of hockey left to be played and the Jackets till have a crucial road trip just before the Olympic Break, which takes them to Anaheim and Los Angeles.
Nobody knows how far the Jackets will take this winning streak or even if they make the playoffs due to the tight races in divisions in the East. One thing is for certain, the ‘Road to Respectability’ that Director of Hockey Operations John Davidson and General manager Jarmo Kekalainen have been taking, has quickly begun to earn Columbus respect within the NHL.
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