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Columbus Blue Jackets: A Look Ahead at the Remaining 2013-2014 Season
The difference between making the Stanley Cup Playoffs and just missing is considerable no matter the margin. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, they finished the 2012-13 regular season winning eight of their last nine games and finished with 92 points, the same points as the Minnesota Wild. However, the Wild had two more wins than the Jackets picking up the final Western Conference playoff spot.
When the 2013-14 season opened last Friday at home against Calgary, expectations for this team were as high as they have ever been. The Jackets moved into the Eastern Conference as part of the National Hockey League’s realignment and were placed in the Metropolitan Division with the New York Rangers and Islanders, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington and Carolina.
Here is a quick look at the players who till ‘Carry the Flag’ in the 2013-14 season.
It begins and ends with Sergei Bobrovsky. At this time last season during the lockout, Bobrovsky was playing for St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League. He was picked up by Columbus and had a phenomenal season, winning 21 games with a 2.03 goals against mark. Bobrovsky is the first true number one goalie the franchise has had, arguably, in its existence. The man they call ‘Bob’ was rewarded with the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie and was named a first-team All-Star. His backup will be Michael Leighton who in 2010 back-stopped Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup Finals.
While Bobrovsky is the last line of defense, the blueliners are strong. They are led by Jack Johnson who should be on the roster of Team USA at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Others who will be key on the blue line are Fedor Tyutin and James Wisniewski, who is fully healthy after suffering the past couple of seasons with assorted injuries. Look for youngsters Ryan Murray and Dalton Prout, who truly shined when he was called into action the last part of the season, to be major keys as well.
Here is the Achilles heel of the Jackets, as they scored just 120 goals over the 48 game shortened season, but that was an improvement from a season ago. They have the players who can put the puck into the net, like Marian Gaborik who came over from the Rangers at the trade deadline, along with Nick Foligno, R. J. Umberger and Nick Foligno, as well as rising stars like Mark Letestu, Matt Calvert, Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, and their leading scorer from a season ago, Vinny Prospal.
One of the biggest free agent signings in team history came over the summer when they inked Nathan Horton to a long term deal. Horton came from Boston where he was a main cog in the Bruins reaching the Stanley Cup Final twice in three years, before winning it all in 2011.
There is a bright future in Columbus, that road to relevancy has begun in a big way for the Jackets under the vision of Director of Hockey Operations John Davidson and General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen. Are the Stanley Cup Playoffs in their sights? Absolutely. Especially in a division that has so many question marks for many of the teams. Specifically from the Rangers, Devils and Capitals, as the top three teams in the division make it to the postseason, along with two wild cards coming from the rest of the conference.
Realignment will bring new rivalries and some of the best stars in the NHL coming into Nationwide Arena multiple times. It should be a lot of fun as we have a full 82 game schedule this season.
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