The game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers held at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday, January 23, 2014 was a historic event for the franchise in two different ways. It would not only mark the 1000th regular season game for the Blue Jackets, it would also see their winning streak improve to 8 games, which is a franchise record. The previous record was only 6 games, much to the surprise of most of the players on the team.
Regardless of the fact that the shootout gives teams a better chance to enjoy longer winning streaks, it’s still pretty impressive for this club to knock off 8 in a row after only winning 14 of their first 35 games this season.
The streak has propelled the Jackets into the 3rd seed in the Metropolitan Division, where it’s important to note that the New York Rangers have 57 points in 53 games and the Jackets have 56 points in only 50 games, giving the Jackets an opportunity to claim the second spot before all is said and done. In fact, Columbus has played the fewest amount of games among Metropolitan teams up to this point in the season.
At the beginning of October, fans were packed into Nationwide Arena to see the team that missed the playoffs by 1 point the previous season. Before player and staff introductions took place, an inspiring video was played on the Jumbotron that filled the crowd with anticipation and hope for this season. The excitement was short-lived as the Calgary Flames, who were effectively eliminated from the playoffs before the season began, took the first game of the season from the Blue Jackets. Losing to the Flames was the sort of disappointment that fans would have to endure for two more months before the team would begin to make good on a promise they were trying to make.
On November 19, the low point would come for the Blue Jackets when they were defeated by the slumping Edmonton Oilers by a score of 7-0. In what was becoming a familiar site, Sergei Bobrovsky would be pulled in that game. Up to that point in November the Jackets only came away with 2 wins and 7 points in 10 games. Of course fan attendance mirrored their performance with less than 12,000 showing up to support the team.
Then December happened. The Jackets would open up the month with a 1-0 shutout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bobrovsky went down in that game with a groin injury that kept him out of the lineup for 5 weeks, but Curtis McElhinney would finish what Bobrovsky started. McElhinney would also allow the Jackets to maintain a .500 pace through the rest of December before Bobrovsky would come back and lead the charge through January.
But it wasn’t just great goaltending that allowed this team to remain competitive, although that is something the Jackets are very lucky to have. In fact, goaltending had little to do with the Jackets .500 play through December, but everything to do with their 9-1-0 record in January. Bobrovsky was reactivated from the injured reserve at the beginning of January. In his past 8 starts, including the game where he was injured against the Lightning in December, he is 8-0-0 with a 1.77 GAA , .941 SV% and one shutout. If Bob continues to put up numbers like this throughout the rest of the season, we could easily see a repeat Vezina winner in Columbus this season.
Why were the Jackets so much more competitive through December and January? They are averaging 3.52 goals per game over those two months. That’s an insane statistic due to the fact that the league-leading Chicago Blackhawks are averaging 3.47 goals per game this season. Currently, the Jackets are 6th overall in goals per game with 2.88 averaged out over the course of the season.
Any analyst who doesn’t spend much time watching the Blue Jackets might think that Nathan Horton’s appearance in the lineup has everything to do with their recent success. Horton has been phenomenal for the Jackets, but it’s certainly a combination of things that has lifted this team in the standings. While he does add to the team’s scoring depth, Ryan Johansen, Columbus’ up-and-coming young superstar, is leading the charge offensively. He’s already shattered his career highs in goals, assists and points this season, and leads the team with 19 goals and 37 points.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are rolling 3 lines that have the ability to create good scoring chances, and their 4th line is centered by the Jackets leading goal scorer from last season, Mark Letestu.
The Blue Jackets are playing really great hockey right now and they are making history. It’s certainly fun to watch. Tonight the Blue Jackets are taking on the Buffalo Sabres in an attempt to extend their record to 9 games. Some might think it’s a trap game and the Blue Jackets streak ends tonight, but if they can continue to play strong throughout the entire 60+ minutes, as we have become accustomed to seeing, then they have nothing to fear.