Even though the Blue Jackets lost to the St. Louis Blues in overtime Saturday night, they’ve played well over the last two weeks without starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
Curtis McElhinney has been a solid backup option for the Blue Jackets all season. At times it seemed that he could possibly challenge Bobrovsky for the starting position. Bobrovsky is having a slow start to this season following his Vezina winning performance last season and McElhinney was even called upon to start a few key games instead of Bobrovsky.
McElhinney came in during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this month and continued Bobrovsky’s shutout to carry the Blue Jackets to a 1-0 win. Later that week McElhinney kept the shutout streak going in a 4-0 win over the Minnesota Wild. Overall, the Blue Jackets are 4-1-1 since losing Bobrovsky and they are fourth in the Metropolitan Division, just three points away from the third seed.
Mike Mckenna was called up on emergency basis by the Blue Jackets to play backup to McElhinney over the next month or so until Bobrovsky’s rehab is finished. However Mckenna had to play two full periods against the New York Rangers on Thursday when Curtis McElhinney suffered a lower-body injury. Mckenna played well, allowing one goal in a 4-2 win for the Blue Jackets and he would be forced to start his first game in the NHL since the 2010-11 season against the Blues Saturday night.
Mckenna kept the Blue Jackets into the game, allowing one goal each period and one more in overtime. Which, all in all, is not too bad for a minor league goaltender playing in his second game this season against one of the best teams in the league. Especially one who has not had a great career in the NHL, 19 games played with a goals against average of 3.44. Sure, it was expected to see him give up a few goals but the fault does not weigh on his shoulders for ultimately losing the game.
Good news for the Blue Jackets, McElhinney’s injury does not appear to be very serious and he should be able to return soon as his injury status is listed as day to day.
The Blue Jackets should be feeling pretty good about their situation. As I mentioned earlier they have gone 4-1-1 since Bobrovsky’s injury but it’s not only their goaltending that deserves credit for the recent success. Offensively and defensively, it appears that the Jackets have finally figured out how to play in the Eastern Conference. In a nutshell, the Western Conference is led by teams that can create scoring chances down low in the offensive zone by cycling the puck around, while the East relies on explosiveness and quicker plays and it appears the coaching staff has figured out how to make the adjustments to coincide with their new Conference.
Specifically, head coach Todd Richards was beginning to garner heavy amounts of criticism into the month of November when his strategy was apparently focused on benching or scratching players who were not performing well, while not making the necessary adjustments with the on-ice strategies. However, the coach seems to be making the right moves with the club lately and he’s benefited recently from the return of Matt Calvert, who missed 19 games due to injury this season. Rookie Boone Jenner has also returned to the lineup and he has been counted on to play some top six minutes during his rookie campaign.
The next few weeks are a big test for the Jackets, but as long as they continue playing well and adapting to the Eastern Conference they should be fine, barring anymore injuries.