Dec 13, 2013, 12:27 PM EDT
Let’s show a little love for the Blue Jackets.
After a dismal start to the season, the BJs have turned it on by winning six of their last nine, moving within two points of Carolina for the third and final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.
But the real story is how Columbus has done it.
The Jackets are winning games without four of their highest-paid and most important players: Marian Gaborik (out since Nov. 14 with a knee injury), Sergei Bobrovsky (out since Dec. 4 with a groin ailment), James Wisniewski (out since Dec. 6 with an upper-body injury) and Nathan Horton (missed the entire season recovering from shoulder surgery).
That quartet represents the club’s top sniper, a Vezina-winning goalie, a top-four defenseman and a prized free agent power forward — big losses for a team light on talent.
Yet the Jackets have made it work.
They’ve recorded quality wins over this 6-3-0 stretch — a 6-0 drubbing of the Leafs in Toronto, back-to-back shutout wins over Tampa Bay and Minnesota — and have played well in their losses, dropping a tough 3-1 decision in Boston and a 2-1 defeat in Pittsburgh.
The most startling thing, though, is how Columbus has coped with its goaltending situation.
When Bobrovsky went down, the Jackets turned the No. 1 gig over to career journeyman Curtis McElhinney, a former Calgary draftee that spent time in Anaheim, Ottawa and Phoenix before joining Columbus last season (spending all of last year in AHL Springfield.) He won three of his first four starts in relief of Bobrovsky, including a 20-save shutout of the Wild.
But on Thursday, McElhinney was injured during the first period of a 4-2 win in New York… forcing Columbus to put in third-stringer Mike McKenna, who was playing his first NHL contest in three years.
Undeterred, McKenna stopped 17 of 18 shots the Rangers threw his way. That raised the spirits of head coach Todd Richards, who praised his players for a “great win.”
“It’s starting to get to that point where I think the confidence is growing in the group,” Richards told the Columbus Dispatch. “And the confidence the coaching staff has in the group is starting to grow.
“We’re starting to see more good things throughout a 60-minute game.”
- Ouch: Wild reportedly suspend Harding for ‘non-hockey injury’ 4
- Keeping Kuemper: Wild sign goalie to two-year deal reportedly worth $2.5M 9
- Selanne regrets harsh words toward Boudreau 3
- Flyers’ Timonen admits chances of playing are ‘really slim’ 7
- Desjardins (a.k.a. not Torts) makes good first impression on Canucks 22
- Leafs deny rift between Kessel and coaching staff 20
- Injured Crosby, Malkin will miss start of Pens’ camp 10
- Selanne rips Boudreau in book 18
- Just how damaging are heated negotiations between Jackets, RFA Johansen? 38
- Panthers owners say they’re committed even though team has lost ‘tremendous amounts of money’ 12
- Heeeeeere’s Johnny! Davidson shreds Johansen’s agent for ‘baffling, nonsensical’ contract demands (62)
- Chiarelli: At some point, I’m going to have to trade a defenseman (56)
- Jackets reveal Johansen offers — including an eight year, $46M deal (54)
- Will the NHL publicize divers? (48)
- No icing on the PK? The USHL will see how that looks (43)