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Blue Jackets' MVP? Hard to say

Enjoying their 12-game point streak, the Blue Jackets can point to many players as the key to their success.

Columbus Blue Jackets fans are clear when it comes to who their MVP is in this abbreviated NHL season, where the 13-12-6 club is on a 12-game point streak and are in playoff contention with 32 points:

“Sergei Bobrovsky. Is this even a competition?” tweeted @DaveSeaman94, when the question was posed via the social media outlet, Twitter, to fans earlier this week.

“MVP Bobrovsky—and its [sic] not close. Jackets were not scoring and he kept them in it,” tweeted @smf360 of the goalie who’s 8-0-2 with a 0.98 GAA and a .967 SV percentage in his last ten appearances. Bobrovsky is 11-6-5 (2.00 GAA, .932 SV%) overall. He’s also won back-to-back NHL three stars honors for his current streak.

“He's had a mental toughness thats [sic] contagious. Everyone in front of him looks up the ice, not back at him. #security,” tweeted @kissmyaspie.

Coming in a close second for fan MVP was veteran Vinny Prospal, who earned his 500th career assist in Tuesday’s regulation win over Nashville and is leading the club offensively with nine goals. 

“His veteran leadership is what has kept the #CBJ together during the season (with) everything that has happened,” tweeted @tcurrent, a thought supported by fellow Twitter fan @ProjectPsion: “He's been producing more than what he's expected to, plus he's playing as if he's the Captain.”

Fedur Tyutin, Jack Johnson, Mark Letestu and Matt Calvert were also among fan MVP’s so far this season.

Prospal, when informed of his fan favorite status Thursday, smiled broadly and said, “I’m not gonna deny it doesn’t feel good, but I’m just piece of the puzzle,” he said. “I’m just part of this hockey team and right now it feels damn great.”

Evidence of the total team effort it’s taking for this hockey club to maintain its current hot streak was last night’s 5-1 dousing of the Calgary Flames when the club got goals from Colton Gillies, Artem Anisimov, Jared Boll and Nick Foligno. Gillies got his first point of the season with an assist on Boll’s first period goal and then got his first goal of the season in the third period. 

Foligno broke R. J. Umberger’s former record of quickest two goals by a single player (1:29) with a second period flurry of two goals scored :41 seconds apart. Anisimov’s goal right after helped break another club record: Fastest three goals scored by multiple players. Foligno and Anisimov managed it in 1:15. It was previously held by Bruce Gardiner, David Vyborny and Steve Heinze at 1:46. 

Twitter CBJ fan @frickendannie recognized the package deal with her tweet that said it’s easy to say Bobrovosky is the star, but… “they are all playing so cohesively that I honestly do not think any one guy is more valuable than another,” she tweeted. “They're all playing their roles, showing up as a team.”

Head coach Todd Richards agreed with that fan analysis:  “It’s tough to say it’s this guy or that guy,” said Richards Thursday after practice. “When you have runs like this, it takes everyone.”

Richards, of course, recognizes the undisputable value of goaltender Bobrovosky to keep his team in the “W” column, as do the players. 

“We feeling a lot of confidence from him,” said Prospal, adding that its confidence that’s keeping the club motivated right now, among other things—including respect from the league and their opponents. “It’s the factor of belief that when every game starts 0-0 we have a chance to win. We’re not just some team that sits at the bottom of the standings. We out there to win those hockey games.

“The league is noticing, the other teams are noticing, the players know it’s not going to be easy game and that’s what you look for,” said Prospal. “We don’t have any superstars, but we got players that play well under this system, and that’s what’s make a good team successful.”

It hasn’t always been this way for the Blue Jackets. Fans recall all too well the days when the CBJ would absolutely collapse in front of their home crowd against any team. Their mental game defeated in a culture that was defined by its losses. 

That all began to change when former coach Scott Arniel was fired and Richards was brought in. Then John Davidson was hired to re-build the organization “brick-by-brick.” Then former captain Rick Nash (no, no plans to name a new captain as of now) was traded to the New York Rangers. Then general manager Jarmo Kekalainen came in and former GM Scott Howson was out.

But Twitter fans were quick to point out that Howson was responsible for some of the moves the team is enjoying now.

“Howson—he brought us Bob (Bobrovosky), Dubi (Brandon Dubinsky), Arte (Anisimov), (Tim) Erixon, Letestu—all major contributors,” said @SoupDoggy. Twitter CBJ fan @JTBratton agreed, “Without him we wouldn't have nearly the pieces that people are voting for. For what it's worth.”

Despite the support, no one can deny the shift in culture has caused a shift in attitude.

“It’s a transition period,” said Prospal. “It’s a transition into a changing culture; changing of what has been here in the past.”

And Richards, under the strength of a leadership team that does not take failure as an option, has turned what was formerly perceived as a rag-tag, last place team into something to be admired.

“( Todd Richards) Managed to get complete buy-in of these guys,” tweeted @RedditCBJ. “ (People have) Completely underestimated the effect he's had.”

So what did Richards do to get the players to buy in? According to Prospal, it all started with the system of play he’s coaching.

“That’s where it starts. You can’t have the coaching staff on a different page than the players. It’s something they have been working on. Now it’s paying dividends,” said Prospal. “I’ve been talking about the players, but for (the coaching staff) it’s the same thing. They don’t want to go to the rink when there’s a losing attitude, when you lose every day, when you show up and get embarrassed. They part of this team as well.”

Richards is humble when asked how his team has gotten this far. It wouldn’t be like him to take the credit for something his players have rightfully earned—the mental fortitude it took to work through the losing times at the start of the season until they got bit by the bug of winning confidence in their current streak.

“It comes from everyone,” said Richards. “It’s easy in this business to get really negative. It’s real easy. But a quote I live by is ‘Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.’ Losing is hard. It’s hard on everything. But it’s always your attitude and choices the next day on how you’re going to react to it. Are you going to be miserable as a coach? Are you going to be miserable as a player? Or are we going to use last night, what we learned from that, and are we going to use today to get better? I think that’s what everyone did.”

Richards said the players could sense in those one-goal losses just before the hot streak that, even though they were losing, they were about to turn a corner.

“I think they started to sense it, they started to see it, like ‘we’re playing better, we’re just about there,’” said Richards. “And now they’re reaping the benefits of those struggles. To me that’s what makes it more rewarding. Now the big test is: Can we keep this going?”

Richards said, inevitably, something is going to happen. Whether it’s something in a game or an injury or the difficulty of traveling—his team will have to rally. But this is a Coach who isn’t afraid of a challenge—or helping his team work through one.

“We’re going to get tested, going out on the road and playing in some tough buildings. And just the travel in general,” said Richards. “But I love the challenge of it. I like it when it’s harder. To me it makes it more rewarding when you succeed.”

The challenge starts tonight against the Nashville Predators with the team’s first of four road games. You can watch the game starting at 8 p.m. on Fox Sports Ohio or by listening to 97.1 The Fan.