A team who was ripped off for the All-Star Game because of the lockout, that's been a miserable joke for years and is supposed to be in rebuilding mode is only 2 points out. Who saw this coming? With this being a shortened season it was expected that even the worst teams would be in the mix till near the end of the season but this isn't the case with the Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets (12-12-6) are currently riding a franchise record 11 game point streak and three of those games involved them beating the Detroit Red Wings, who have always had the Blue Jackets number. Earlier this month on March 3rd the Blue Jackets held the worst record in the NHL after going 5-12-4, but after going 7-0-4 in their last 11 games they're right back in the playoff hunt.
"It's so great in team sports when the players all of a sudden start to believe in themselves and each other." ~ Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen
After losing Nash to the New York Rangers the Blue Jackets were a team left without an identity, the had no superstars and people joked they were more of an AHL team. But after a GM change that saw Scott Howson get the boot and Jarmo Kekalainen take over, the Blue Jackets have had their "No names" step up.
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been the driving force behind the Blue Jackets success as of late. He was named the first star of the NHL last week and has been solid between the pipes. In the month of March he's been a perfect 5-0-1 with a 0.83 Goals Against Average and a .970 Save Percentage, allowing just 5 goals on 166 shots.
Part of his success as of late is really understanding how to play goal and use his 6 foot 2 frame to his advantage. Earlier in his career he'd rely on quick feet but had a deep crouch and leaned too far forward on his skates allowing him to fall victim to "weak" goals. Now he understands the angles and is playing a much more centred game allowing him to have more control on the initial shot and standing much taller in the crease instead of shrinking.
But it's not just Bobrovsky that has elevated his game as of late.Vinny Prospal is the Blue Jackets leading scorer with 9 goals and 18 points followed closely by Mark Letestu with 7 goals and 16 points. Prospal and Letestu have been the best players this season for the Blue Jackets leading the team offensively.
Jack Johnson has been holding down the fort on defence eating up 26 minutes a night and putting up 14 points. Johnson has been playing so well he's garnered a lot of attention from other teams looking to acquire a defenceman for the playoffs and could be excellent trade bait should the Blue Jackets chose to trade him. Should the Blue Jackets chose to keep the defenceman he could become an excellent choice to become their next captain and perhaps even franchise player- he certainly talks like one.
"We have to play to win, not play to not lose. There is a huge difference. It’s an exciting brand of hockey that brings people to games, and that is the only way we can start to grow the fan base back up."
Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon have been great additions to the Blue Jackets and while they may not have the star power as the player they were traded for, they're doing their part to help the Blue Jackets. Anisimov has 6 goals and 8 points while battling through injuries while Erixon has 4 assists and plays just over 16 minutes a night on the blue line.
Mix in 24 points from Nick Foligno and RJ Umberger and you have a solid team that is only 2 points out of the playoffs. The fact that they're without a superstar or big first line center doesn't seem to be bothering the Blue Jackets and their quest to make the playoffs. When you have a whole bunch of players that are willing to do whatever they can to help their team win good things are going to happen. The Blue Jacket players are all committed to blocking shots, penalty killing, bailing each other out and most importantly sticking up for each other.
Not having a captain to "lead" the team seems to be working for the Blue Jackets as the team has great chemistry and is playing well together. Rick Nash left so he could have a chance to win but his New York Rangers aren't doing so well while the Blue Jackets are climbing up the standings- maybe Rick Nash was the problem in Columbus.
While it remains unknown if the Blue Jackets will actually make the playoffs at this point, I like their odds. They need to continue their hot play and prove they are for real, keep working together as a team and get solid goaltending from Bobrovsky for them to squeak into the playoffs in the West.
“We expect to be in the playoff picture." ~ Mark Letestu
On paper the Blue Jackets are a talented playoff team but on the ice they're playing a like a solid team that isn't afraid of anyone. Right now the Blue Jacket players are playing for the name on the front of their jersey- part of not having any stars- and when you have a team of players sold out to the success of the team, ore than their personal success it's a difficult team to beat.