Jackets seem to be figuring things out as the team continues fighting for a playoff spot
To repeat a popular refrain of mine that's been uttered countless times during Jackets games since the NHL's trade deadline three weeks or so back: “Dammit!”
It was even uttered a few times on a recent Tuesday night, in a game the CBJ won 7-4. After going up 5-1 on the Boston Bruins in the second period, the home team gave up three straight and held a one-goal lead entering the third before adding to its goal total for a more comfortable win.
Things certainly haven't gone the way fans (or the front office, or the players, or the coaches, or…) would have wanted after General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen went all in at the deadline. But maybe there's something to the whole “needs time to jell” thing. Or maybe there is something to the “overwhelmed by expectations” thing.
The Blue Jackets are 4-4 since adding Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid, trading away most of what remained of the 2019 draft (among other assets) in the process. Kekalainen didn't trade pending free agents Sergei Bobrovsky or Artemi Panarin, making the Jackets the talk of the league — which was exciting until the team, with its new talent and firepower, started crapping the bed.
But for three games now, the team has looked better, despite the middle game being a 0-2 loss to the Islanders in Brooklyn. Head Coach John Tortorella seems to have settled on line combinations, returning the struggling Pierre-Luc Dubois with Panarin and Cam Atkinson and moving power forward Josh Anderson to wing with Duchene and Dzingel, who skated together in Ottawa before being acquired by the CBJ. He's tried both Riley Nash and Oliver Bjorkstrand with Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno, who have lost a little firepower with Anderson moved off their line, but little effectiveness.
Most importantly, the team is skating more freely and has sharpened its approach at both ends of the ice. For some reason, passing is still confounding, but the team seems to have adjusted by carrying the puck more. On defense, that three-goal spurt by the Bruins notwithstanding, there's better organization and, most importantly, Bob has been playing well.
Duchene and Dzingel have come on after appearing tentative in their first few games in Union Blue. The hope here is that both can be convinced to sign here long-term after the season.
But the resurgence feels fueled in particular by three players (in addition to Bobrovsky — more on him later): Cam Atkinson, who it feels has become the de facto leader of the team and is an elite goal scorer in this league; Zach Werenski, who all of a sudden looks engaged and sharp and is moving his legs, all things that have hampered him much of the season; and the aforementioned Anderson, who is dangerous every time he's on the ice, an eye-opening combination of speed, strength and soft hands.
As always, if the team is to make the playoffs and potentially advance, it's all going to be about the play in net. The assumption is that Bobrovsky is gone from Columbus after this season. Will that help relax or focus his mindset as the season enters its final weeks? The Jackets are in a dogfight for their payoff lives, with four and maybe five teams fighting for three spots.