The Blue Jackets, Somehow, Are One Win Away from Mario's Penguins and NHL History
Columbus is riding a 16-game winning streak, one shy of the record set by the 1992-93 Penguins. We look at some of the key numbers during the Blue Jackets' run.
Photo by Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
The surging Columbus Blue Jackets are one win away from tying a record set by one of the greatest regular-season teams ever assembled. Yeah, the Columbus frigging Blue Jackets.
Quite shockingly, we just mentioned a John Tortorella-coached organization that has only made the playoffs twice since 2000 in the same breath as one of the best teams to hit the ice since the expansion era. One coached by the great Scotty Bowman while boasting Hall-of-Fame talent like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Ron Francis. The Pens finished 56-21-7 during the 1992-93 season, powered by an NHL record 17-game winning streak, but just missed out on capturing their third straight Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh was the premiere, model franchise of the early 1990s.
The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, have not been a model franchise since entering the league in 2000. They've been far from it, actually. They've been mostly terrible forever, actually, which is why this is so surprising.
In hockey, as in life, a lot has changed since the 90s. A revamped scoring system—including the extinction of ties and the introduction of the much-maligned loser point—is one major shift that has impacted the way we contrast and compare streaks and standings from different eras. Past teams have gone on extended point streaks despite losing multiple games in overtime and shootouts, diminishing the value of the run.
The Jackets, though, have left each and every one of their last 16 contests with the win, going undefeated since their last game of November. No ties, no loser points. Though they have two shootout victories over the span which would have resulted in tie games in the old-school format, it's all still pretty mind-blowing.
Their advanced stats are nothing to get excited about, a fact Dave Lozo recently shed light on, especially against the league's stronger teams. Not including Tuesday's win over Edmonton, their raw Fenwick over the duration of the streak sits at a low 49.3 percent when facing anyone not named Arizona or Colorado, and is a poor 48.3 percent against playoff teams over that time.
So, how has this organization, one with such a subpar drafting history and only four winning seasons since the inception of the franchise, been able to pull off this remarkable run? A deadly powerplay, balanced scoring, big contributions from their young blueline, a bit of great goaltending and a whole lot of luck have been the central elements to the dream-like streak Columbus is on.
All very unsustainable factors that will surely see the Jackets slide as we get later in the season, right? Who knows, who cares. For now, this young, exciting team is taking us all on a crazy ride, and this is how they're doing it.
The powerplay has been running at a 28.3-percent clip this season, cashing in more than a quarter of their opportunities. According to Yahoo's Greg Wyshynski, the efficiency rate that the Blue Jackets have been scoring at on the powerplay is the best we've seen since 1990. The next nine best powerplays scored on 24.3–26.8 percent of their chances, giving the Blue Jackets a 1.5 percentage point edge over the 2012-13 Capitals.
The streak began with a 5-1 over Tampa Bay on Nov. 29. Since that time, the Blue Jackets added another 15 straight to the win column while outscoring their opponents 62-27—a goal differential of +35, which tops the NHL. Several players have chipped in by hovering around a point-per-game over the streak. Cam Atkinson has 18 points, including 10 goals, in his last 16 games; Brandon Saad and Sam Gagner have put up 16 points apiece; captain Nick Foligno, meanwhile, has put up 14 of his own.
Goaltenders are often front and centre of long NHL streaks, good or bad. For Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, it's been all good. The 2013 Vezina Trophy winner has started 14 of the 16 games over the run, posting a .941 save percentage and miniscule 1.64 goals against average, despite Columbus being ranked in the bottom third of the league in shots against per game. Bobrovsky leads every major statistical goaltending category since Nov. 29, and became just the sixth goaltender in NHL history to win 14 straight games—the second-longest streak all time.
A couple of young studs on the blueline have been stellar in front of their Russian goalie, as well. Seth Jones has put up 11 points over the 16-game streak while averaging over 21 minutes of ice time per night, and the club simply seems to get wins when the Arlington, Texas, native gets on the score sheet. Since acquiring Jones from the Nashville Predators in 2015, they've put up a record of 27-4-0 when the blueliner records a point, which he's done nine times since the Jackets started their run and is currently on a four-game point streak.
Rookie Zach Werenski, who has been partnered with Jones more often than not this season, has more than exceeded expectations in his first campaign. He's currently tied with Mitch Marner for the rookie lead in assists with 19, and sits fifth among all rookies with 25 points in 35 games while averaging over 20 minutes a night on the team's top pairing.
As they sit at 27-5-4 with a chance to tie the Penguins' record on Thursday, we may soon have to put our buddy Torts in the same category as Scotty freaking Bowman as the Atkinson and Gagner-led Blue Jackets look to at least match a record set by Lemieux and Jagr's Penguins.
This is so confusing. But it's also a lot of fun.