It’s been a long week for Columbus hockey fans as both the Buckeyes and Blue Jackets have struggled mightily in the last week of play. With the struggles of both teams, especially the Blue Jackets, there are some real concerns that not only do I have as a hockey fan in Columbus, but the whole Columbus hockey community has. In this article I plan to breakdown these struggles and where both teams can go from here.
With that being said, I am very less concerned with the Buckeyes than I am with the CBJ. The Buckeyes I believe happened to run into a very motivated and prepared Minnesota team. Offensively the Buckeyes looked great in both games despite slow starts. The Bucks scored three goals in the games both Friday and Saturday, looking especially good on the power play Saturday night. Where the Buckeyes did struggle was on the defensive and goaltending end of things, giving up four goals both nights of play. I think nerves of winning their first Big Ten regular season title may have also played a part in the play of the Buckeyes. Personally, I plan for the Buckeyes to recover this weekend at Michigan, at least get one win on the road, three points and clinch the Big Ten title.
Now on to the Blue Jackets, and boy have they struggled offensively as of late. Scoring no goals last Thursday against the Islanders, only one against the Lightning Monday night, and only two against the Senators on Tuesday night. Now to be fair they did score five against the Blackhawks on Saturday night, who were playing well as of late. Also, the Islanders are the best defensive team in the NHL, the Lightning are sitting in first place of the whole NHL with 96 points, 17 points up on the second place Flames. Lastly, the Jackets were short their best scorer, Artemi Panarin, who has 67 points (43 assists and 24 goals). So are the offensive problems as bad as they seem or is it as Michigan football would want to call it, a mirage.
It's been hard this season to pinpoint whether or not the Blue Jackets are a good offensive team. Yes, they have gone through their fair share of offensive struggles and droughts this season, but the are currently ranked 10thin the NHL for goals for at 3.19 goals per game. They also have a total of four twenty goal scorers and a total of three fifty-point scorers. Cam Atkinson, Dubois, and Artemi Panarin are having particularly good offensive seasons with each having at least twenty goals and assists respectively. So, the question is, are we bad offensively? At times this season we have been challenged offensively, but overall, I feel that the struggles have appeared worse than they are. I think that the Blue Jackets are a good, if not great offensive team most of the time.
Now, a lot of this offensive success hinges on Panarin. With Panarin possibly leaving in free agency this summer or being traded by the trade deadline, the CBJ are in danger of losing their biggest source of offensive production. Though I doubt he will be dealt before the trade deadline, he very well may leave this summer, so the Jackets have got to be ready to look for more offensive weapons this offseason. Where I begin to believe he won’t be traded comes down to the fact that Panarin has been vocal over his enjoyment of Columbus, and I doubt Jarmo and the front office would trade such a valuable piece like Panarin if we have a chance to sign him again during free agency. Also, based on Coach Tortorella’s comments on Tuesday night about Panarin having the runs seemed to show his frustration of the speculation. Torts is brutally honest and if Panarin missing the game was to keep trade value, I think he would have told us. Personally, I believe he is frustrated with these rumors seeping into the locker room and causing a distraction.
The question of free agency will fall greatly onto whether we are more concerned with offense or goaltending. I highly doubt that the front office of the CBJ will be able to land both Bobrovsky and Panarin in a case of free agency. Will we trade Bob? My answer to that question is no. Even though Bobrovsky has had an up and down season with just a .904 save percentage I don’t think we are ready to rely on Joonas Korpisalo who has an even worse .896 save percentage with an average of just over three goals given up a game. Goaltending in the offseason must be top priority for the Jackets. They must continue to develop Korpisalo, who I believe has mainly struggled due to a lack of confidence and experience. He needs more time between the pipes, or the goaltender woes will continue to happen and will be magnified if the organization loses Bob to a trade of free agency.
One thing, however that is promising for a possible playoff run for the Jackets is the improvement of the special teams. Now I know the power play still isn’t great, but it has definitely improved since the CBJ acquired Martin St. Louis as a consultant on the power play. The power play instantly showed improvement, jumping from almost last place up to 28that 15.5%. They definitely have room for improvement considering the power play has cooled off this last week. Still, the power play actually resembles a power play for once. Good, quick puck movement, increased traffic in front of the net, and simplicity has helped. Get the puck on net and good things will happen. The most important and best part of this team is definitely the penalty kill, which sits in 5thplace at 83.2%. This is very important if we plan to have a chance to finally advance past the first round, especially considering the main reason the CBJ lost last year was bad discipline combined with a mediocre penalty kill.
Yes, the Blue Jackets have struggled, but there is one thing that bothers me. The Jackets have faced extreme hate from their own fans. If you are irritated, vent, but do it constructively. “We suck,” and, “we are pathetic,” isn’t constructive, if you have something intelligent or helpful to say, say it. Otherwise, keep the hate to yourself or if it irritates you so much don’t watch. I’ve said some things this week like, send Riley Nash down to Cleveland to find his game or Seth Jones needs to shoot at the net with nine seconds left in the game, instead of passing to the empty corner. That is constructive and helpful. I asked a question to the CBJ Artillery this week for their podcast the Artillery Pod, “are we becoming spoiled fans?” The hate that’s been swirling around every game is the reason I asked this question, they answered it and said we don’t have anything to be spoiled about so no. I could have asked the question better. Are we becoming too hateful at our team? There’s a question for you all to simmer on this week. Yes, we have tough competition coming up, but in order to be successful and climb from the last wild card in the Eastern conference, make the playoffs, and avoid a first round date with the Golden State Warriors of ice hockey (the Tampa Bay Lightning) they are going to need the 5thLine behind them.