Don’t look now folks, the Blue Jackets are red hot. Well, red hot in the sense that they’ve gotten points in four of their last five games, including three wins. Today we’re looking at three reasons why the team is having more success since the All-Star break.
It’s not just a weak stretch of the schedule that the Jackets are having some success in right now either – since returning from the All-Star break, they hold a 3-2-1 record in games against Toronto (twice), New Jersey, Winnipeg, Dallas; and a streaking Arizona team that hasn’t lost in regulation in nine games.
In their first game since the break, they lost to Toronto at Nationwide Arena; but came back the very next night and beat the Leafs in their own barn. Next up came a tough matchup against a New Jersey team that picked the Jackets apart, winning their only other meeting this season by a 7-1 margin. But the Jackets played one of their best games of the season and looked destined for overtime, before a Devils goal with under 2 seconds remaining stole the win.
They followed up that heartbreaking loss by beating two of the best teams in the Western Conference – first, Joonas Korpisalo stole a win over the Jets; then he did it again two nights later in Dallas. Last night in Arizona, playing the second half of a back-to-back, the team went down 2-0 early before rallying back and forcing overtime.
Though they went on to lose last night’s game, it’s a positive result for a team that hasn’t had many this season. So this morning, we’re taking a look at three reasons why the Blue Jackets are playing so much better.
Right away, the biggest change I’ve seen in this team lately: the goalies are playing a lot better. On the season, Elvis Merzlikins, Joonas Korpisalo, and Daniil Tarasov have combined for a team save percentage of 89.7%. But over the last six games, they’re stopping pucks at a 91.6% rate. Korpisalo has been stellar in that time, but Merzlikins has held his own as well.
While two percentage points doesn’t seem like all that much, factoring in another 1-2 goals over this stretch probably means they lose at least one more of these games – and with as young and fragile as this lineup has been all year, we can only imagine how much it might have snowballed at any point. Especially against stronger competition.
Part of this has been the team playing stingier defense. Blocking more shots, being more physical and taking away time and space. For the season, they average 34.6 shots against per game – but over the last six games, it’s less than 28 shots for the opposition. Baby steps here, but they are showing improvement.