In this topsy-turvy season, the all-star defenseman's recent ankle injury is cause for alarm, but maybe not dismay
That described the Blue Jackets' playoff chances early in the season, when the offseason free agent defections were apparently too much to compensate for.
Then it was the team's playoff chances when, after steadying the ship, players started getting injured left and right, resulting in a slew of call-ups from the Cleveland Monsters to round out the lineup.
Then it was their chances when, after the team got on a roll with renewed energy from the minor leaguers, goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, who had assumed control of the net in such commanding fashion that he'd been selected to represent the CBJ at the NHL All-Star Game, hurt his knee in late December.
You all know what happened next. Elvis happened.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
The rookie goaltender from Latvia dominated January, equaling a record set in 1939 for rookie goaltender shutouts (five in eight games!). With help from countryman and sudden backup Matiss Kivlenieks, Elvis backstopped the surging Jackets to a playoff position they appeared unlikely to surrender. They team was getting healthy and expected to get healthier for the stretch run.
Until last Saturday, when All-Star defenseman and probably the team's best player, Seth Jones, broke his ankle in a game against the Colorado Avalanche.
Subsequent word that winger Cam Atkinson might have re-injured his ankle in the same game left Jackets fans shaking their heads at this unpredictable and inexplicable turn of events in a season full of such turns.
Perhaps the Jackets will weather the Jones injury the same way they have every other unforeseen challenge this season: by rallying and, in some cases, improving. But fans would be forgiven for believing that the team's best player missing the most important part of the season is the straw that broke the camel's back.
The first test of the Jones-less Jackets came Monday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and I think we learned a few things.
1) Seth Jones' injury is going to make a significant difference in two areas. First, the CBJ had no answer for the Point-Kucherov-Palat line. That's a high-skill, high-speed unit that scored both goals on Monday. It's the kind of matchup where Jones is missed. And second was the overtime — not just because Zach Werenski, taking Jones' spot on the first three-man unit, crossed the line from calm to lackadaisical and coughed up the puck leading to the game-winner. But it impacts the units all the way through.
2) This season's ever-changing structure, along with the recent history of shrugging off adversity caused by players being out of the lineup, will help keep the team in games no matter who's on the ice. Oh yeah, and the goaltending.
3) This group will not go gently into that good night. Perhaps it was some residue from last season's playoff matchup, but the Jackets were chippy against the Lightning. I expect that to continue as the team looks to find ways to win games.
4) Speaking of needing to find ways, the team needs to figure out how to score. This is nothing new this season, but down the stretch, and with its best player out of the lineup, there's going to be a need for goals at least every so often.