Sergei Bobrovsky returned to the lineup on Saturday and helped Columbus pick up a win, stopping 36 of 37 from a potent San Jose offense.
It was Columbus's second win in a row, and the first of them broke up what had been, to that point, a nine-game losing streak. Nine games is obviously a lot, about 11 percent of a team's overall schedule, from which to get just a single point from an overtime loss, and the Blue Jackets are consequently now definitively behind the 8-ball in terms of their ability to make the playoffs.
So far behind, in fact, that even with the four points gained this weekend, through Saturday's games, they were still only three points ahead of the Sabres and tied with Carolina in the league standings.
(Now, if you're going to fall backwards into a season in which being unexpectedly and deeply terrible all of a sudden is your thing, then the McDavid/Eichel sweepstakes season is the one in which to do it. But that's beside the point.)
So the question isn't necessarily whether the Blue Jackets will make the playoffs — they probably won't, because you can't lose nine games in a row and expect to make it all that often — but in theory it's still possible. They're only five points back of the Rangers, who at this point seem a pretty likely candidate to fall out of the third and final guaranteed division playoff spot. The problem, of course, is that they're also behind literally every other team in the Metro in trying to get there, including the Devils, with whom the Rangers are tied.
The question instead is what they will theoretically be able to do as more and more guys come back healthy and ready to contribute.
It's hard to believe there's any particularly large coincidence behind the fact that Bobrovsky's return (his first action since Oct. 26) gave the Blue Jackets just their second game of the season in which they allowed only one goal, while his backups conceded fewer than three just once. That in and of itself is going to make it very difficult for any team, even a fully healthy one, to win games. And we all know quite well that the Blue Jackets have been the opposite of a healthy team for basically the entire season. Only five guys have played in all 17 Columbus games this season. Two of them are critical performers — Ryan Johansen and Scott Hartnell — and the other three are very much not: David Savard, Michael Chaput, and Jared Boll.
Nathan Horton is almost certainly going to miss the rest of his season, and perhaps the rest of his career, as a result of a crippling back injury. Brandon Dubinsky has to be pretty close to returning but hasn't made a single appearance yet this year. Ryan Murray has been on the IR for two weeks with a sprained knee. Mark Letestu could be out another couple weeks with a groin injury. The list goes on and on, literally, because Fedor Tyutin just went down with a four-to-six-week knee injury of his own on Friday. It's a horror show for the Blue Jackets, in no uncertain terms, and there's no telling when they're going to be back at full force.
It's reasonable to say that most people had this team pegged as a potential playoff contender, and maybe even one that would make it into the postseason with a fair degree of comfort. So you have to wonder how quickly they can close the gap between themselves and some conference foes. Even with all these players out of the lineup, they're fairly close to being a positive possession team, for one thing, with fenwick at around 48 percent (though San Jose dominated them at even strength, 59-26). It's a pretty big gap to make up obviously but you have to imagine a full-strength roster, instead of one composed primarily of guys who shouldn't get top-six minutes or indeed any NHL time at all doing so, doesn't suffer such problems. It's very difficult to say exactly what they could do, simply because they finished at less than 50 percent last season as well, but they did improve in the offseason.
But beyond that, it's important to note that the Blue Jackets have also been remarkably unlucky, not just to suffer these injuries so heavily and all at once, but also on the ice. Usually, a team's possession percentages will cling pretty closely to its goals-for percentages, but for the Blue Jackets, the latter is short of the former by about 10 percentage points. They've scored just 25 goals at even strength this season, which has them comfortably in the bottom five in the league, and allowed a similarly dismal 38. That's just 39.7 percent of the goals-for in their games, and it's a stat that almost certainly is going to come up. Last year, that number was nearly 51.8 percent.
This is wholly a consequence of not having NHL-caliber talent on hand to put the puck in the net (team ES shooting percentage of 6.67 percent, 26th in the NHL), and also relying on backups for about half the season. Their overall ES save percentage of .906 is 24th in the league, but without Bobrovsky it was .900.
It's hard to guess when everyone will be back and healthy enough to drive that team shooting back up to a respectable level — you'd have to say their talent level dictates a number akin to last year's 8 percent — but the immediate return of Bobrovsky should at least stop losing them just about every game before they start it.
And again, that's probably not enough to get them anywhere in and of itself. But this is the Eastern Conference, and stranger things have certainly happened in this league. A full-strength Columbus team could boss around that division, but one has to wonder if we're ever going to see that become reality this season.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Dany Heatley is on injured reserve with a groin injury for the second time this year. Now who's going to not-score for them? Literally anyone? Oh right, literally anyone. Lots of guys can play in the NHL and put six shots on goal in 47 minutes.
Arizona Coyotes: This is the third and most impressive goal from Martin Hanzal's natural hat trick in Vancouver on Friday, and boy is that a bad play from Nick Bonino to spring him for it.
Boston Bruins: Does anyone want to venture a guess as to how much the Bruins' ability to “bounce back” came as a direct result of playing the Hurricanes, whom they only beat 2-1? Do people really think this one win means they're out of the woods?
Buffalo Sabres: Hmm it seems Cody Hodgson has been bad this season. Hmm can that be right?
Calgary Flames: I think we kind of have to talk about how solid young Sean Monahan has been for Calgary this season. He went from getting cushy third-line minutes as a rookie to getting the toughest competition of any Flames center by far, and he's on 5-7-12 in 19 games. That's a lot better than I think most people had reason to expect, and his underlying numbers suggest he's going to keep it up.
Carolina Hurricanes: Especially worrisome for the Bruins is how they got pushed around for Carolina's only goal in that game. They spent 1:30 on their end of the ice because Dan Paille and Gregory Campbell are bad.
Chicago Blackhawks: Last night was Brad Richards' 1,000th career game. Feels like he should have gotten to that number a while ago but good for him anyway. Strong career.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs actually outshot the Devils in earning a 3-2 win on Saturday night, and that's just about the weirdest thing I've had to type this season.
Columbus Blue Jackets: As a means of stopping the dam from completely breaking, Jarmo Kekalainen was forced to trade for Jordan Leopold after Fedor Tyutin went down with an injury. Kekalainen: “I talked with every team in the league, basically, for the last two or three weeks about getting a defenseman.” Yikes.
Dallas Stars: The Stars have just one win from nine games at home this season. That doesn't seem possible.
Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings targeting a defenseman in trade? You don't say.
Edmonton Oilers: Last night's game against Arizona was the 100th Dallas Eakins coached for the Oilers. That trails only Tom Renney's 164 since they canned Craig MacTavish in 2009. Seems impossible that this could be true but here we are.
Florida Panthers: Willie Mitchell will get his second Stanley Cup ring on the Panthers' west coast trip, and it might even make him think, “Why on earth did I sign with Florida?”
Los Angeles Kings: Shouts out to Jarret Stoll for scoring the weakest overtime winner of the season so far.
Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise is back, and not a moment too soon. The Wild have lost four of five without him.
Montreal Canadiens: Yes, Sergei Gonchar's presence is the reason the Habs are finally scoring on the power play. Makes perfect sense.
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Sorry the Preds can't make the Jets be an exciting team to watch. Guarantee if the Preds don't win, there's no headline about how boring the game was.
New Jersey Devils: You wonder if there's ever going to be a point at which the Devils do everything right at the same time for more than a game or two. Baffling team.
New York Islanders: Now Mike Bossy says fighting is stupid. But I guess he Never Played The Game.
New York Rangers: I love that Henrik Lundqvist knows, a) That he's only stopped half the shootout attempts he's faced this year, and b) that 50 percent is bad.
Ottawa Senators: Celebrating getting three points of a possible six out of Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary. It's come to this.
Philadelphia Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere will be out as much as four months after surgery on his ACL. Too bad, he's such a fun player to watch.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Awful turnover by Dan Boyle, but man what a shot from Evgeni Malkin.
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton keeps creeping up the league's all-time scoring charts, passing Bobby Clarke and closing in on Jeremy Roenick and Larry Murphy. Dude might break the top 40 all-time and not make the Hall of Fame. The only guys in the top 40 who haven't made it yet are Jaromir Jagr, Mark Recchi, Teemu Selanne, Dave Andreychuk, Pierre Turgeon, Jeremy Roenick, and Phil Housley. Almost all those guys deserve to be in there.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues are winning not only because they're scoring, but because the defense has been playing very well. That makes sense. They have a very good D corps.
Tampa Bay Lightning: How is Ryan Callahan a point-a-game player?
Toronto Maple Leafs: Love ya, Phil.
Vancouver Canucks: Nick Bonino is the “real deal” after 18 games. And you will never ever ever guess whether he's also getting super-easy minutes. (He is.)
Washington Capitals: This goal went down as unassisted but there was such a great outlet pass from Braden Holtby to set it up.
Winnipeg Jets: It's amazing how good your team defense looks when your goalie is posting a save percentage so far ahead of his usual production, isn't it? When Pavelec was putting up his normal numbers it was all, “Our defense stinks!” Seeing a subhead of “Jets perfectly happy with low goal total” is ludicrous.
Play of the Weekend
This is Jack Eichel making up a ton of ground against three defenders in Maine on Friday night. The rush resulted in a shorthanded goal. That inside-outside move at full-speed around the red line was majestic.
Gold Star Award
Trenchant analysis (and only two years late) right here.
Minus of the Weekend
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “titsuple” is making a blockbuster.
Can't beat that.
I feel like I'm watching regional theatre, you guys! God, am I in the Cleveland Playhouse or something?