The Jackets still struggle to score, and the team's power play remains atrocious, but there are early season signs of life beginning to reveal themselves
It's not often you see a game decided in overtime on a penalty shot. Especially in the modern NHL, which features 3-on-3 overtime play, a format that doesn't exactly lend itself to breakaways.
But that's exactly what happened when Gus Nyquist scored on a penalty shot in overtime Monday to give the Blue Jackets a much-needed 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The game marked the first time in team history that the Blue Jackets scored goals at even strength, shorthanded, on the power play and via penalty shot.
Now, I know what you're thinking and stop it. You're wondering if the issue is not the overall rarity of the shorty or the penalty shot, but the near impossibility of the CBJ actually scoring with the man advantage.
Since January 2017 (which, admittedly, is a sort of random starting spot, but let's roll with it for the sake of discussion), the Jackets have the league's worst power play. After tallying on the man advantage Monday, the team is now at 14.3 percent for the current season, with four goals in 28 opportunities. So it's bad this year, and that's not a new thing.
Which means it was bad even when Artemi Panarin was out there in Union Blue, as well as Matt Duchene and everyone else that left the team this past offseason.
So what's the deal? Is it coaching? The players? Is some kind of mental block?
Straight Jackets is not typically a prescriptive kind of place, but here I think it's fair to call assistant coach Brad Larsen on the carpet. Head Coach John Tortorella gets some blame, too, even if only for allowing Larsen to continue to run the special teams show. (Which, you'll recall, isn't exactly accurate, given Torts swapped the duties of his assistants at the start of last season. It didn't work.)
So the players, then? We knew this year's team might struggle to score, and was built for team scoring rather than individual stat accumulation. But with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski manning the points, and capable forwards like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Alexander Wennberg...
Stop right there. Wennberg? The same Wennberg who scored a grand total of two goals all last season, 10 in the previous two? That Alexander Wennberg?
Wenny's poor play is well-documented. Some fans hoped he'd be bought out last offseason (some still want him to be). He's publicly butted heads with Tortorella. He's had some injuries. But for a past top 10 overall draft pick making almost $5 million a year, those things aren't explanation enough. And Wennberg hasn't been close to good.
But this year, he's one of five players tied for the early season points lead on the team (not that anyone is setting the league on fire). I'll admit I am among his biggest detractors, but I'll take what he's giving now for a team that needs effective play from its entire roster and also needs to identify some guys on whom it can rely to score.
It's early, and the Jackets are finding their way a little in the post-Bob-and-Bread era. It's both exciting and nerve-wracking all at once.