Weekend showed Blue Jackets can win more than one way
The 2014 calendar year is turning into a good one for the Blue Jackets. They have only lost one game since the new year began, going 7-1-0. They have been steadily climbing the standings, to the point where they hold fourth place in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 24-20-4 (52 points), just three points out from a guaranteed playoff seed after 48 games.
In the Eastern Conference standings, they are in 8th place, holding the second wild card playoff spot by virtue of a tiebreaker (more regulation wins) over the Detroit Red Wings (21-17-10) and Washington Capitals (22-19-8).
They have gone 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and have a +3 goal differential (GF 138, GA 135). And in case you missed it, they hold the current longest winning streak in the NHL at six games. They have done all this by finding a way to win games.
Even the players are commenting on this, via social media. Defenseman James Wisniewski Tweeted on Sunday after winning their sixth game in a row. "Are you guys catching all this? Hell of a lot of cowbell going on in Cbus." How can you not like a Christopher Walken reference?
The last two games over the weekend are a case in point. One game they won playing a good, consistent form of hockey. The other was by far not their best game, but they found a way to win in the shootout.
Friday night at Nationwide Arena, they were hosting the Capitals, who were riding a three-game losing streak. Columbus had lost both previous meeting with Washington this season by a combined score of 8-4. The Caps had been sitting in the top three of the division for a majority of the season and had one of the NHL’s best power plays.
We have players that can play. We have players that can make plays — but overall, I think we’re a team.
-- Nathan Horton
Columbus got their legs under them midway through the first period and never looked back, rolling to a 5-1 drubbing of Washington. As it has been recently, the Blue Jackets are getting contributions from all of the players on the ice. They are becoming a solid unit and playing as a team.
"Well, I think that’s it," said right wing Nathan Horton, "we’re a team. We roll four lines. That’s how you win and that’s how we’ve been doing it, playing by committee. We’ve got four lines that are going and that’s why we’re winning."
In addition to Columbus getting the contributions from all four lines, the play in net by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been nothing short of stellar. Since returning from a groin strain suffered Dec. 3, he’s unbeaten, going 5-0-0 with one shutout victory thrown into the mix. At times Friday, flashes of his Vezina-winning form from a year ago were visible.
"He’s a great goaltender," Horton continued. "Everyone knows that he’s pretty special. Again, (Friday) he was behind us and helped us out. When you have a goalie like that, that’s as good as he is behind you, you know that he’s there to make a save."
The story is old hat by now of Horton watching the games versus playing in them as he rehabbed from shoulder surgery. He’s now played eight games for Columbus and continues to get his game back to where it should be. The team did what it had to do by playing .500 hockey until his return and knows that he’s not the savior, not that they need one, but merely one more piece of the puzzle.
"We have good players," said Horton. "We have players that can play. We have players that can make plays. But overall, I think we’re a team. We don’t have any superstars right now. We have a team that works hard and plays smart. We have some talented players, we have some grinders, great goaltending and a great defense. We’re a team and that’s how we play."
Saturday night they were in Buffalo to take on a Sabres team that is trying to find its way yet can still be dangerous. Columbus, once again, got off to a slow start. Buffalo was able to stretch them out and entered their zone with speed. The Blue Jackets were prone to mistakes, with poor puck management chief among them.
It was one of those games that, in days gone by, they would have lost. The white-knuckle ride lasted through 65 minutes of play and into the shootout. With two goalies in net that will be representing their respective countries in the Olympics in a few weeks, this had all the drama of a protracted shootout. Both goalies were perfect through the first two rounds. And then, the magic happened.
Center Ryan Johansen (18-18-36), "Superintendent of Danglebus" as ESPN’s John Buccigross calls him, had everyone mesmerized with his puck handling skills, including Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, as he netted the game-winner. It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but they found a way to win.
"Yeah, exactly," Johansen said after the game. "It’s a 60-minute game for a reason. I think we got away from our game a little bit, but I thought we did a good job of getting momentum back again. Our guys stuck with it and found a way. And now we’re leaving (Buffalo) with two points."
They are playing with a confidence that was missing earlier this year, yet seems to be coalescing at just the right time as they get set to head into the Olympic break next month. The schedule doesn’t get any easier, yet they know they must continue to play "their" game to ensure that they see the post-season.
Tomorrow the Los Angeles Kings visit the friendly confines as the Blue Jackets face another good team. The Kings are 29-14-6 (64 points), and are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. This is a game that Columbus can win, as they look to continue their climb up the Metro Division standings. The puck drops at 7 p.m.