Having been pegged as basement dwellers of the NHL at the start of the season, the Columbus Blue Jackets have now made themselves legitimate playoff contenders, following their 16-game win streak. Over this stretch of games, which flattened Philadelphia’s long streak of ten wins, the Blue Jackets scored 62 goals whilst only conceding 27, kept a fair 79.6 penalty kill percentage – but limited their times short-handed to just 49 occasions – and were a mighty 28.3 percent on the powerplay.
But who did head coach John Tortorella – deemed to be one of the top coaches of 2016 – inspire to guide his team to the top of the NHL? Here are the heroes behind the near-record breaking streak of the Columbus Blue Jackets – in no particular order.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Goaltender
Where better to start than the NHL’s leader in wins and one of the best goalies in the league right now. Sergei Bobrovsky played in 14 of the 16 games putting up some impeccable stat lines – which haven’t even been boosted by a shutout. The Russian net minder held a .941 save percentage on 392 shots against with a stone wall goals against average of 1.64. He even managed to rank as one of the top goaltenders of 2016.
There’s no doubt that Bobrovsky has stepped up in a big way following his injury stricken 2015/16 campaign. The 2013 Vezina Trophy winner seems far more agile these days, gliding across the crease with lightning pace when he needs to, which isn’t all that often as his positioning is stellar. The 28-year-old conceded more than one goal six times during the streak, only conceding more than two goals on just three occasions.
Cam Atkinson, Right Wing
The six-year Blue Jacket has been the face of this win streak, scoring more points than games played over the run. His ten goals and 18 points clocked him in as the eighth highest scorer between November 27 and January 5, only four points down on the ever-blazing Sidney Crosby. His shooting percentage was exceptionally strong, with nearly a quarter (23.3%) of his shots finding the twine, showing how lethal he can be.
Cam Atkinson pulled his weight all over the ice, dealing out six hits, six blocked shots and earning a +8 rating. What impressed was that of his 17:42 minutes of average time on the ice, an average of 01:30 minutes per game were spent short-handed, with his immense skating speed being used to close down the opposition as well as slip away with the puck – which led to a short-handed goal.
David Savard, Defenseman
David Savard has been a rock in defence for the Blue Jackets over the streak. He may have only put up six assists, but his +17 rating says everything. Savard’s defensive prowess allowed the more offensive minded forwards to express themselves higher up the rink, whilst he’d mop up if the opposition came the other way.
With 22 hits, 28 blocked shots, a team leading 22:03 minutes on the ice per game – including an average of 2:37 minutes short-handed per game – Savard was crucial, and will continue to be crucial to the Blue Jackets as they look to maintain their high standing in the league.
Brandon Saad, Left Wing
Averaging just over 50 points per season since his breakout campaign in 2012/13, with the Chicago Blackhawks; Brandon Saad really upped his rate of scoring to boost the Blue Jackets, scoring eight goals and 16 points – only two of which came on the powerplay – with a +13 rating.
Saad chewed up a fair amount of ice time with his average of 17:33 minutes per game and managed to keep his play very clean, only sitting in the bin once for two minutes over the 16 games. What stands out for the natural scorer is his giveaway-takeaway differential, with Saad stealing the puck seven more times than he lost it.
Zach Werenski, Defenseman
The rookie defenseman, who is certainly in the running for the Calder Trophy, was trusted with a lot of ice time during the 16-game win streak, and he certainly made the most of them. With one goal and nine points, the young blue-liner has earned the trust of Tortorella.
Although his nine hits and 19 blocked shots helped to bolster Columbus’ mighty defence over this run, his role as a playmaker on the powerplay really aided his team in capitalising on the man-advantage. Zach Werenski collected a team leading 50:17 minutes, distributed seven assists and fired ten shots on the powerplay, making the 19-year-old integral to the Blue Jackets’ success.
Sam Gagner, Center
An underdog story all on its own: Sam Gagner is having a career-season after a weak showing in his 53 games with the Philadelphia Flyers last season. Signing on August 1 for a $650,000, one-year deal, no one really batted an eyelid at Columbus’ only free agent signing of the summer, but he’s proving to be a very strong pick-up.
In the winning streak alone, the often fourth line forward collected seven goals and 16 points whilst averaging just 13:19 minutes on the ice per game. The key was Gagner’s powerplay positioning, being a rugged contender whilst also being slick when finding space, leading to four goals and eight points on the powerplay.
Seth Jones, Defenseman
Seth Jones has really flourished since he switched from the elite defensive lines of the Nashville Predators to being the headline of Columbus’. With more responsibility and more minutes, the still only 22-year-old American blue-liner has made himself a real force at both ends of the ice.
During the 16-game win streak of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Seth Jones was the team’s highest scoring defenseman with four goals and 11 points. That, along with his solid defensive play, earned him a +9 rating despite putting up ten penalty minutes and averaging 22:03 minutes of ice time per game – 1:56 minutes per game of which were in short-handed situations.
Jack Johnson, Defenseman
Potential candidate to be exposed for the Vegas Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft, Jack Johnson has transformed into a crucial member of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ defensive corps, but let’s start off with his offensive contributions. Johnson clocked in two goals and seven points over the 16-game win streak, which accounts for 90 percent of his production this season, and tying him with his scoring from last season.
The 29-year-old’s current plus-minus sits at +20 on the season, which is by far the best of his career, with him pulling in a +14 rating over the win streak. This is greatly down to his firm, but fairly clean defensive plays. Johnson’s put up 14 hits, six penalty minutes, 29 blocked shots and seven takeaways to only two giveaways.
Onwards for the Columbus Blue Jackets
These are but a few of the stars who helped to surge the Columbus Blue Jackets to a very-near historical winning streak, and the whole team deserves great credit for what they’ve achieved. Now the task is to hold onto their standing.
The Columbus Blue Jackets’ 16-game win streak came to a thunderous halt against the Washington Capitals last night, losing 5-0 at the Verizon Center, and their next contest doesn’t look to be the one in which they get started up again.
Next up are the New York Rangers at home, who are 7-3-0 in their last ten games. Columbus currently have a three point cushion over them and their fellow Metropolitan Division playoff spot holders, the Pittsburgh Penguins, but that looks set to drop to one as the Rangers are red-hot and the Blue Jackets may still be suffering from somewhat of a hangover from their streak being broken. Having said that, the Blue Jackets did defeat the Rangers at the Nationwide Arena just a few games prior to the start of their big win streak.
After the Rangers game on Saturday night, they face the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, who have not been going strong lately. With a 3-5-2 last ten record and an unfavourable 8-9-2 run on the road, the Blue Jackets will certainly be looking to get back on track against the Flyers, despite being tired.
Who stood out for you during the Blue Jackets’ 16-game win streak? Let us know in the comments section below.