Collective confidence, surging offense contributing to Blue Jackets’ rise
How is this happening? How have the Columbus Blue Jackets forged the longest current winning streak in the NHL? According to winger Matt Calvert, getting healthier has had a major impact on the team’s rise, but that’s only part of it.
"You never want to use health as an excuse, but we were missing quite a few guys for long stretches this year," said Calvert, who has been one of those guys beset by injuries this year. "So I think, one, us being relatively healthy — and obviously we’re still missing Marian (Gaborik), a tough loss for us — and, two, I think a big thing is we’ve come together as a team, we’ve learned how to play together as a team. We’ve had a new line step up every night, and I think that’s been a big key for us."
Balance has definitely been a huge part of the team’s recent success. The fact that head coach Todd Richards trusts all four lines and can roll them out one after another keeps the team fresher and makes it harder to defend. It’s tough for opposing teams to key on one or two Blue Jackets lines when all are contributing.
"Up front, all four lines can be trusted," Calvert agreed. "Our fourth line gives us some energy, it’s scored some goals for us, and the rest of the guys have picked up their pace, too. Our ‘D’ have been great, and obviously Bob (Sergei Bobrovsky) has been making huge saves. So, it helps when you have a balanced team like that, and we want to just keep this thing going. We’re doing a lot of good things and working on getting better at other things.
"Every one of our ‘D’ can help provide offense for us, and all four of our lines can score," he continued. "So it really helps. We’re a deeper team. We might not have the superstars some teams have, but we come at you with all four lines, so it’s good."
Although Richards is still looking for that elusive "perfect 60 minutes" from his team, the head coach acknowledged the work ethic has been mostly consistent throughout this streak, especially since the Blue Jackets came out sluggishly in the first period against Winnipeg earlier this month. He gave the team credit for recognizing the lull and ramping up its intensity. Calvert believes the team’s physicality is the common thread in keeping the work ethic where it needs to be.
"It’s something we take pride in," he said. "We have a lot of gritty forwards, and we want to get in their face and make it uncomfortable for opposing ‘D’ to play against us. I know it’s not fun getting hit, so I think we’ve realized that and we want to dish it out ourselves."
In their last 20 games, the Blue Jackets have averaged 3.4 goals per game, as opposed to 2.45 goals per game over the first 29 games. Richards thinks the surge in his team’s offensive game is a blend of his young players gaining confidence and the improvement in the power play. Calvert says guys are pushing each other on the power play because there are now 10 forwards getting time on ice with the man advantage.
"It’s competitiveness between different guys, especially up front, and it makes it fun," he noted. "If you’re going that night, you’ll get the chance, and if another line’s going another night, those guys will get the chance. We’ve really been pushing each other, and we’ve had some big goals."
And maybe the biggest reason of all the Blue Jackets have moved themselves back into playoff contention is the collective level of belief there is in the locker room.
"I think we can compete with anybody," Calvert said. "Maybe the belief wasn’t 100 percent there when we weren’t winning a ton, but we’re a confident group in here now. We’ve figured out what we have to do to win hockey games and be successful, and we have to keep doing that."