The Columbus Blue Jackets (17-9-1, 35 points) vaulted to first place in the Metropolitan division, one point ahead of the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils, with two victories against Carolina in a shootout and Anaheim, 4-2, last week.
The two losses came against against Montreal (29 points, third in Atlantic) and Washington (33 points, fifth Metropolitan), two teams currently in the playoff picture.
Here are a few storylines from the ninth week of the Blue Jackets’ season.
Rookie at No. 1 center
The Blue Jackets top need in the offseason was a top-line center. Alexander Wennberg was a promising front-line center, but the team wanted a solidified goal-scorer in that role and added depth at center. Little did it know a 19-year-old rookie would be in the middle on the first line in early December.
The top line of Artemi Panarin, Dubois and Josh Anderson tallied five goals and 11 assists in four games last week and might be the catalyst the Blue Jackets’ offense has been searching for.
Dubois began the season at left wing in a move by head coach John Tortorella to help the former third-overall pick assimilate to the speed and physicality of the NHL in his first season. Now, he leads Columbus’ best line for the past two weeks.
Defensive depth being challenged
Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara had been trending upward as a reliable defensive pair, moving to the second pairing while Jack Johnson and David Savard were moved to the third pair. Now Murray and Nutivaara are injured, leaving Tortorella no choice but to rely on Johnson and Savard.
The two were on the ice for 21 minutes against Washington. Both were on the ice for two goals allowed, with one being on the penalty kill for Johnson. Scott Harrington and Gabriel Carlsson will likely draw into the third pair again Tuesday against New Jersey.
Matt Calvert and Alexander Wennberg return
The Blue Jackets gained some depth at center and much needed physical presence with the return of Alexander Wennberg and Matt Calvert last week. In his first game back since Nov. 4, Calvert made an impact on the penalty kill with a shorthanded goal.
The Blue Jackets penalty kill has been solid all season. Calvert’s presence will only add to its effectiveness.
Wennberg drew into the second line with Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson, the trio that worked so well last year. The 23-year-old Swede had just one assist in three games after returning from an upper-body injury. He has recorded just 1-9-10 so far, after posting 13-46-59 a season ago.
- Defenseman Markus Nutivaara didn’t play at Washington with an upper-body injury.
- Defenseman Ryan Murray was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Nov. 27 with an upper-body injury.
The Blue Jackets have two of its biggest games of the season to this point up next on their schedule. They lead the Metro by just one point with a huge opportunity to widen that margin with two games against second-place New Jersey, which has led the division for much of the early season.
Forwards Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, lead the Devils with 27 and 19 points. New Jersey has played the weakest schedule in the NHL through 26 games, according to ESPN’s NHL relative power index. After allowing two power-play goals last week, the Blue Jackets face a young, talented Devils power play which ranks 10th-best in the league.
Top performers (skaters)
Pierre-Luc Dubois – one goals (4), five assists (7), six points (11), +2
Artemi Panarin – two goals (7), three assists (14), five points (21), +4
Josh Anderson – two goals (10), three assists (7), five points (17), +3
Zach Werenski – two goals (8), one assist (7), three assists (15), +1
Joonas Korpisalo – 2-0-0 (3-3-0), 1.91 goals allowed average (2.81), 54 saves, .931 (.907)
Sergei Bobrovsky – 0-2-0 (14-6-1), 3.07 goals allowed average (2.02), 44 saves, .880 save percentage (.931)
In the circle (faceoff record, faceoff win percentage, EV record, PP record, SH record)
Brandon Dubinsky – 36-30, 54.5, 28-22, 0-2, 8-6
Pierre-Luc Dubois – 22-36, 37.9, 20-33, 2-3, 0-0
Alexander Wennberg – 14-19, 42.4, 13-16, 1-3, 0-0
Nick Foligno – 11-17, 39.3, 9-11, 1-3, 1-3
Lukas Sedlak – 11-14, 44.0, 10-12, 0-1, 1-1
Overall: 46.1 percent, ranked 30th
Special teams units:
Powerplay – 0-for-5 at Montreal; 0-for-1 vs. Carolina; 1-for-7 vs. Anaheim; 0-for-0 at Washington
Overall: 7-for-75 (9.3 percent), ranked 31st
Penalty kill – 2-for-3 at Montreal; 1-for-1 vs. Carolina; 4-for-4 vs. Anaheim; 1-for-2 at Washington
Overall: 57-for-68 (83.8 percent), ranked sixth
12/5 – vs. New Jersey (15-7-4)
12/8 – at New Jersey (15-7-4)
12/9 – vs. Arizona (7-18-5)