In the month of December, the Columbus Blue Jackets are averaging 3.64 goals for per game. If they kept up that production over a full season, that would be good enough for third in the entire league, based on this season so far. Only the Vancouver Canucks (3.86) and Colorado Avalanche (3.65) have more productive offenses.
The team is producing at a much higher rate this month, in spite of the fact that they're currently missing a few of their supposed leaders up front. Out of the lineup are captain Boone Jenner, star forward Patrik Laine, as well as Jack Roslovic.
The goals for average for the Jackets this year is 3.09, 17th in the NHL. So, it goes without saying that producing more with nearly $16.5m worth of players from your front line is, well, something.
In my opinion, this speaks to player usage issues with the Blue Jackets. Since Jenner went out with a broken jaw, head coach Pascal Vincent has been forced to use Adam Fantilli as the top line center. I won't say that this is the cause of the team's recent outburst - at least, not on its own. After all, Jenner was realy productive in that role, with a team-best 13 goals at the time of his injury.
But, what Jenner's injury - and Fantilli's promotion - have done, is force Vincent to roll out his lines with some consistency. Gone is the rotating 12/13 forward. The top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Fantilli, and utility forward Justin Danforth; has been consistent and effective. It's gone from Boone being more productive because he's playing with Gaudreau, to the entire line being tougher to play against because they're faster, and there's more skill.
The "Russian line" - Yegor Chinakhov, Dmitri Voronkov, and Kirill Marchenko - has been energetic and thrilling to watch, even in spite of their struggles on the defensive side of the puck. Pairing Kent Johnson with Cole Sillinger and Emil Bemstrom has given the team a sort of oddball third line. That trio works because they all play at the same pace; which doesn't mesh up with the other two lines, both of whom play at a higher octane.
Two games ago, against the Washington Capitals, we even saw the team's crutch - the fourth line - benched in the third period, as they went for the tying goal. The top three lines rolled and kept the Caps pinned in their own end for much of the period, ultimately getting the equalizer.
All of this tells me one thing: what we, as fans, have been asking for is exactly what needs to happen with this team. Turn the keys over to the kids.
I won't call Jenner, or Laine, or Roslovic dead weight. All three are very talented NHL players. But clearly, things have not worked out with the latter two in Columbus. It's time to move on and get what we can for the pieces picked up in the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade. And, while I love big Boone, it's time to put him back where he belongs: a bottom-six role. He can still play on the power-play. He can still kill penalties. He's still your captain.
But, Johnny Gaudreau has 22 points in 35 games this season - and 7 of those points have come in the 6 games without Boone Jenner. He looks refreshed, and the power-play has been better with him and the Russians running the top unit. He and Fantilli have looked really good together also, and it's time to start moving forward with the pieces that are going to stick around longer-term for the Blue Jackets.