Plenty of bright spots in Blue Jackets’ season so far

The Blue Jackets are still mired in seventh place in the Metropolitan

Division with 27 points in 29 games. The “on-again, off-again” nature of

the club through the first two months of the season has left them with a

hill to climb.

This seems eerily reminiscent

of the way they started last year as inconsistent play and injuries have

plagued them to this point.

The team still waits

for the debut of Nathan Horton. The return of Marian Gaborik and Sergei

Bobrovsky is still weeks away. Jared Boll is still on Injured Reserve

and James Wisniewski is out for the next two games (at least) after

sustaining an upper-body injury in Friday night’s win over the Minnesota

Wild.

Center Artem Anisimov has been all but

invisible, going 1-1-2 (-1) in his last five games. Right winger Cam

Atkinson has been in a bit of slump, going 1-1-2 (even +/-) in the

previous five games. Much was expected of the young Atkinson and the

team needs him to get back to into his scoring ways.

But

there are bright spots as they get ready to play their 30th game of the

season against the division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. Curtis

McElhinney, elevated to the starting goaltender role in the wake of the

groin injury to Bobrovsky, began his tenure as the starter with a convincing shutout

against Minnesota. The team played with confidence in front of him,

knowing that he’s more than capable to carry the

load.

Derek MacKenzie, one of head coach Todd

Richards’ “energy guys”, made his return to the lineup in the same game.

He had 11:13 of ice time and won 50% of his face-offs in the circle.

He’s 2-1-3 in 23 games played with a +/- of -5. The “old man” of the

team, at 32, continues to be one of the hardest workers on the

ice.

Forward Nick Foligno is 3-1-4, +1 in his

last five games, including two game-winning goals in that span. Center

Ryan Johansen has taken strides in his game and plays with confidence.

In the last five games, the youngster (he’s only 21) has notched 2-4-6

with a +/- of +3 and two multi-point games. Forward RJ Umberger has

gotten back into what works for him and has become a presence in front

of the net. In the last five games, he’s 1-2-3 (even

+/-).

On the defensive side in the last five

games, rookie Ryan Murray hasn’t scored any points, but he’s +3 and

continues to play in all situations (even strength, PP, PK, etc), having

earned more responsibility from the coach. With the poise and skill

that he displays, it’s hard to believe that he’s just a rookie with only

29 NHL games under his belt.

Jack Johnson

continues to eat up minutes on the blue line while making smarter plays

with the puck. His defensive partner, Fedor Tyutin, brings his

consistent play each and every game, going 0-2-2 (-2) in his last five

games.

Another positive sign is the fact that

they are starting to shoot the puck more. The age-old mantra of “shoot

the puck and good things can happen” holds true, as evidenced by the

season-high 41 shots they put on the Minnesota Wild last Friday. This

needs to continue to help them have success.

While

they haven’t been written out of making the playoffs, they need to get

back to that mentality of “us against the world”. They have to prove

that the impressive run in the latter half of last season wasn’t a

fluke. Hopefully they have learned that they cannot be satisfied. They

have to strive to keep improving and play consistent hockey. Only then

can they begin the climb out of the hole that they have dug for

themselves.

Short Shifts

And baby makes three. Brandon Dubinsky and his wife Brenna welcomed

their first child, Brady Charles, into the world last week. He’s

eligible for the 2032 NHL Entry Draft.

Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Calvert, both of whom took a “maintenance

day” on Saturday, will be in the lineup tonight versus the

Penguins.

• Defenseman

David Savard, having been a healthy scratch for the previous four games,

will likely draw back into the lineup with the injury to James

Wisniewski.

• On the

Pittsburgh side, Evgeni Malkin remains questionable for tonight’s tilt.

After leaving the game against Boston Saturday night on a stretcher,

Brooks Orpik is out while James Neal is having a phone hearing with the

NHL (possible suspension) and is likely out.