The Blue Jackets come off of a week of mixed results. Improved play led the team to a 1-0-1 record last week, defeating the Flyers at home by a 5-2 score on Thursday, before losing to the Islanders 4-3, Saturday on Long Island.
Thursday’s game was a glimpse of what the future Jackets may look like, as their star talent showed up in a big way. Zach Werenski scored a goal and added an assist; Johnny Gaudreau had three points, and Nick Blankenburg was all over the ice before adding a goal late. Unfortunately for the club, they lost half of their defense corps that night – Erik Gudbranson is out day to day, while Werenski and Blankenburg have longer term injuries.
The team came back with a much different look on Saturday, including three call-ups on defense (Gavin Bayreuther, Marcus Bjork, and Jake Christiansen). They fared better than expected against a deep Islanders team – forcing them to extra time before Zach Parise found the winner early in the overtime frame.
This one feels like it could be on the coaching staff, who opted to deploy three forwards (Gaudreau, Patrik Laine, Boone Jenner); rather than having a defenseman on the ice. The result of having Boone Jenner playing defense ended as you might imagine (video below). Still, getting a point on Long Island is a positive result in an early part of the season that has been mostly negative.
This week, the schedule ramps up big time. The Jackets will play four home games over a six night span, hosting Philadelphia on Tuesday, Montreal on Thursday, then Detroit (Saturday) and Florida (Sunday). The weekend games in particular look to be tough tests, while the games Tuesday and Thursday could go in any number of directions.
We’ll have to wait and see if any reinforcements are slated to return – most notably, Erik Gudbranson, Sean Kuraly, and Jakub Voracek. Gudbranson and Kuraly both have “upper body injuries” and are listed as day to day (seems like concussions). Voracek (listed as indefinite) may be out longer term, though the team has been tight-lipped in regards to what he’s dealing with.
After those guys, defenseman Adam Boqvist (roughly 3-weeks) is the closest to returning. Blankenburg will be out until after Christmas, while Werenski (rest of the season) and Justin Danforth (may return in the final weeks) round out the list of players on the IR.
We talked about the team playing to a new identity with so many players out, and it seems like they did exactly that on Saturday. Their defense was about what I expected – they surrendered 46 shots, but with the entire team devoted to playing better defense, it didn’t really feel like the Islanders were all that dangerous with many of them. The entire team did a pretty nice job, considering the roster they iced.
Joonas Korpisalo again stood tall, and seems to have taken over the starting role for the time being. The offense for the Blue Jackets was timely, and they found the back of the net three times against a very stingy team with a solid goaltender. All in all, this is the kind of performance we can probably expect from this team for the rest of the season: full team effort in the D zone, timely scoring.
They’ll surrender a ton of shots and chances with this group on the blueline, but if everyone pitches in, they won’t be unbearable to watch because they do have players that can score. In the end, their record will probably depend heavily on the play of their goaltenders. When they’re hot, this team will still win some games.
This week presents some tough tests for the Blue Jackets, and it will be interesting to see how the young defense corps handles itself now that they’re settling into some games in rapid fire action. If nothing else, this gives the coaching staff and GM Jarmo Kekalainen some time to evaluate players they wouldn’t have seen as much of this season. As fans, let’s hope the plucky Jackets can grind out some fun hockey.
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