Hopes of building on last season's playoff success are beginning to evaporate
I guess if there's one bright side to the Blue Jackets' overwhelmingly "meh" start to the season it's that the team is giving fans their money's worth.
Between overtime and one-goal games, the Fifth Line is getting either literally more hockey or at least more anxiety in waiting for the result.
As of this writing, the Blue Jackets have 18 points from a 7-8-4 record. Only three of those wins have come in regulation, the most recent being a 3-2 win at Arizona on Nov. 7. Each of the seven wins has come by a single goal.
Early season struggles in net and on defense seem to have steadied in recent weeks, with nominal starter Joonas Korpisalo and nominal backup Elvis Merzlikins both sporting a .919 save percentage in their recent sequence of appearances. It's encouraging and was necessary, given that the strength of the team was believed to be its blue line talent and depth. Both young goalies have shown well in earning their improved numbers, as well.
The team is still scoring at a concerning rate, with just 45 goals in 19 games, for a sub 2.4-goals-per-game average. That's not going to win in today's NHL — or any era's NHL, for that matter.
The struggle (to score goals) is real. Pierre-Luc Dubois, while starting to look like a top line center, leads the team with just 12 points. For context, league leader Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers has 43 points.
The list of un-contributors in unchanged. Cam Atkinson is nowhere to be found, yet somehow has tallied 11 points of his own. Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Nick Foligno, plus rookies Emil Bemstrom and Alexandre Texier, can't seem to get going.
It helps that the team's two best players, defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, are scoring some. But it's troubling.
How many times can it be pointed out that the power play is bad? Head Coach John Tortorella told us last season to blame him and not Assistant Coach Brad Larsen, whose assignments include the man advantage. So it's Torts' fault. This has some — mostly still in darker corners — calling for his job. Perhaps he has done as much for the roster as he can. Even in his best coaching days with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks, Torts was known for having poor power plays.
There are questions being asked about the plan laid out by General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen, too. While the unproven goalies he opted to employ to replace the departed Sergei Bobrovsky have stabilized, his younger scorers have not come through to help fill the void left by Artemi Panarin's departure and, to a lesser degree, that of Matt Duchene.
Tied for last in the Metropolitan Division, what hopes the CBJ might have of building on last year's first-ever playoff series win are hanging by a thread.