Despite the feel good, “Glad to be a Jackets fan” attitude sweeping through the fan base, the Columbus Blue Jackets still find themselves in a very precarious position. Despite being 4 points from a playoff spot, the CBJ also find themselves 4 points from an all-too-familiar 30th place in the league. The current point streak of 7 games, where the team has gone 5-0-2, is still overshadowed by the abysmal start to the season. Still, as a Blue Jackets fan you can help but feel good that John Davidson’s big gamble of a marketing pitch “We will not be outworked” is actually coming to fruition. But how long can it last? Are the Blue Jackets playing a brand of hockey we can hope to see every night? To me, there are three components all working in favor of the Blue Jackets the past seven games.
1. Spectacular Goaltending – for the team to have confidence, they have to have faith in their goaltender. In my opinion, both Mason and Bobrovsky have played well all season. Each has had one or two game where they seemed to fight it, but goalies have those nights. So the team is playing with confidence that the goalies are making the saves they are supposed to be making. But when you’re mired in one-goal games, it’s often spectacular goaltending that gets you over the edge. And it’s no surprise that Bobrovsky has been making 2-3 acrobatic saves a game that are huge difference makers. Bob is a very positionally sound goalie who plays the percentages, and as the old adage goes, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
2. Jackets are getting bounces – this is something unexplainable and can’t be relied upon, but makes all the difference for an offensively-challanged team. Take RJ Umberger’s last two goals. Against Vancouver, Foligno’s ‘far post jam’ hits the post and goes right onto Umberger’s stick for a fortuitous tap-in. Oh, if they were all that easy. Then his goal against Detroit on Sunday. Detroit turns the puck over twice in one breakout, and the puck comes right to Umberger’s stick. A quick snap shot that grazes off a Detroit players stick finds the back of the net.
3. Mucking it up – let’s face it, the Jackets might be setting hockey back 20 years with their ‘clog the middle’ style of play. They play a passive fore check and retreat to the neutral zone where they look to clog the middle - forcing teams to beat them wide while gaining their offensive blue line. Then the Jackets take defending the Red Zone to the extreme. As of late they don’t challenge the point a whole lot and put four or sometimes five players defending from the Red Zone out. If executed properly, setting up shop like this in Dzone coverage and clogging the middle in the neutral zone pretty much means you can only get beat in transition or off of a turnover. The trade off is your forecheck doesn’t generate much offense, unless the opposing team commits some errors and your breakout isn’t as quick to take off. I’d be interested to get an old-school opposing coach’s take on that style of defense, from say a Daryl Sutter or John Tortorella.
|Four, Four players attacking from the Red Zone - AH, AH, AH!|
Can the Jackets keep winning like they are? That largely depends on points one and two. Having a hot goaltender and getting bounces going your way are two things, more that skill alone, that lead to deep playoff runs or 18-0-3 streaks. But the Jackets are working hard, which to me doesn’t really make point three the ‘cheapening’ of hockey. The Jackets work hard and bang bodies in the offensive zone. If the Jackets can continue to produce on the power play, I don’t see any reason the Jackets can’t keep this up. But points one and two listed above right now are the contributing factors of the Jacket's recent success. It’s a Catch 22 if you think about it: if the goaltending is any less than All-World and every bounce doesn’t got the Jacket’s way, hard work serves for nothing. But if you don’t work hard every game, then you’re not around to capitalize on good goal tending and lucky breaks. Darn you Joseph Heller, darn you.