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2016-17 NHL Season Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

2016-17 NHL Season Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.

Team: Columbus Blue Jackets.

How they did last season: 34-40-8 (76 points); Last in the Metropolitan Division; 15th in the Eastern Conference. Missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.

Notable acquisitions: C Sam Gagner; LW Pierre-Luc Dubois; D Scott Harrington; and assistant coach Brad Shaw.

Notable departures: RW Rene Bourque; RW Jared Boll; D Fedor Tyutin; D Justin Falk; LW Kerby Rychel; and assistant coach Craig Hartsburg.

When they will play the Caps: Nov. 15 in Columbus; Nov. 20 in Washington; Jan. 5 in Washington; March 23 in Washington; and April 12 in Columbus.

Analysis: The Blue Jackets finished 27th in the league last season and, well, followed up that disappointing campaign with an awfully quiet offseason.

Why so quiet? Looks to me like GM Jarmo Kekalainen is taking the longview while also counting on a confluence of events to occur in 2016-17. Among the thins that need to happen:

  • Bounce-back seasons from winger Nick Foligno and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets' highest and fourth-highest paid players. Foligno had 12 goals and 37 points, a steep decline from the 31 and 73 he produced the year before. Bobrovsky, meantime, struggled with injuries and consistency and won only 15 games.  
  • A breakout season (or three) from the organization’s deep pool of young players and prospects, many of whom helped the AHL Lake Erie Monsters sweep the Hershey Bears in the Calder Cup finals. Defenseman Zach Weresnki, forwards Sonny Milano, Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand and goalies Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo—all of whom are close to being ready to contribute in the NHL. There’s also left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois, the No. 3 overall pick in June’s draft. Should they have taken Jesse Puljujarvi instead? Time will tell. But Dubois has an outside shot at sticking in Columbus straight out of camp.    
  • A masterpiece coaching job from John Tortorella. Can he help youthful standouts like Seth Jones, Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner reach their full potential while simultaneously guiding the organization’s many prospects through a sometimes tough transition to the NHL? That remains to be seen, but the 2004 Stanley Cup champion coach certainly has navigated a lot of different situations during his two decades as an NHL head or assistant coach. It should also be noted that Torts went a respectable 34-32-8 after replacing Todd Richards. Under Richards, the Jackets opened the season 0-7-0.   

If all, or even much, of the above happens, that would be great for Columbus and its long-suffering fan base. The Jackets actually might be good enough to make things interesting down the stretch. And, more importantly, it could lay the foundation for future success.

Season prediction: Call me a pessimist, but I don’t see it coming together. Not this year, at least.

Too many variables, too much youth and a tough division, to boot.

Having seen the Capitals build through the draft and benefit from prospects who learned to win while playing for a championship-caliber AHL organization, it’s certainly possible this youth movement could lead to positive things down the road.    

If they don’t, however, watch out. It’s hard to envision where the Jackets turn next. They aren’t getting much bang for their buck currently; according to www.generalfanager.com, in fact, they’ve got less than $4 million available in cap space this season and no big salaries set to come off the books at year’s end. So, if things do go south, there might not be any option other than a tear-it-down rebuild.

2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS

Pacific Division
— Anaheim Ducks
— Arizona Coyotes
— Calgary Flames
— Edmonton Oilers
— Los Angeles Kings
— San Jose Sharks
— Vancouver Canucks

Central Division
— Chicago Blackhawks
— Colorado Avalanche
— Dallas Stars
— Minnesota Wild
— Nashville Predators
— St. Louis Blues
— Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
— Florida Panthers
— Montreal Canadiens
— Ottawa Senators
— Tampa Bay Lightning
— Toronto Maple Leafs

Metropolitan Division
Carolina Hurricanes
— New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
— New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
— New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
— Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
— Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
— Washington Capitals (coming soon)

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A first period to forget, a strong night for Holtby and hope for the third line

A first period to forget, a strong night for Holtby and hope for the third line

 

WASHINGTON -- The Capitals returned home only to have their six-game winning streak snapped by a Columbus Blue Jackets team that had lost its last four.

Check out the recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

The first period is in the running for worst of the season

Washington was outshot 20-6, could not get possession and could not get the puck out of the defensive zone. Things were getting comically bad as Michal Kempny accidentally shot the puck on his own net which forced a save from Braden Holtby and then a trip as he tried to keep Pierre-Luc Dubois from getting to the loose puck. Later in the period, Gustav Nyquist got a breakaway chance when Jakub Vrana basically passed the puck right to him.

Why was it so bad? Maybe it was the jet lag, maybe the Caps came into this one thinking they would have an easy time against a bad team or maybe it was just one of those nights. Regardless, it was bad. While Washington played better as the game went along, that first period really set the tone for the entire 60 minutes.

Holtby was the only reason the Caps were in this game

The Caps will likely have to choose between Holtby and Ilya Samsonov in the offseason as their goalie of the future. Because of that, some fans are already drawing lines in the sand and declaring themselves for Team Holtby or Team Samsonov. Those Holtby detractors take every opportunity to declare every bad game as Holtby’s fault, but that was just not the case on Monday.

Holtby was the only thing, the only thing keeping Washington in this game.

Holtby made 33 saves for the game, 19 of which came in just the first period alone. The third goal Holtby allowed was soft as he showed Riley Nash too much daylight off the post allowing Nash to bank the puck off him and in, but besides that, it was a really strong game for the Caps' netminder overall.

The third line showed signs of life but remains a work in progress

Coming into this game, Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, and Richard Panik had played less than 24 minutes together at 5-on-5 this season. Having a full lineup back, Reirden was able to utilize this line and the results were good. They ultimately did not produce any points, but the line looked very good to start and it looks like there is potential there.

"They did some good things," Reirden said. "I thought early on they were probably one of our better lines to start the game. They were the group that was giving us some offense and giving us some possession time and I thought executing at probably the highest level."

Look, I know many fans out there are done with Panik already, but give him time to actually play on the line he was signed to play with. The Caps have banked a ton of points and sit first in the entire NHL. They have the flexibility to experiment with the third line and see if that trio can build some chemistry together.

Keep an eye on the home record

The loss drops Washington's home record to 8-3-4 for the season. Not terrible, but not great either especially when compared to their 14-2-1 record on the road. I'm not ready to think there is something wrong with theCaps at home yet, but this is something that is worth monitoring.

Turning point

The Caps had nothing going for them through 40 minutes, but it would not be the first time they were able to rally from a multi-goal deficit in the third period to get the win. Heck, I'm not sure people would even be surprised by it anymore. When Alex Ovechkin scored less than a minute into the third, my gut reaction was OK, here we go. Here comes the rally.

Nash's goal put an end to all of that when he was able to bank the puck in off of Holtby from behind the goal line. At that point, you knew the game was over.

Play of the game

On the first period breakaway Nyquist received courtesy of Vrana, Nyquist tried to beat Holtby with the backhand through the 5-hole. The Caps' netminder recovered well and swept out the pads to deny him the goal. Had Washington come back to make a game of this one, this save would have been one of the pivotal moments of the game.

Stat of the game

Congratulations to Craig "Woody" Leydig!

Quote of the game

Reirden on what went wrong in the first period:

"There wasn't a whole lot going right. That was, to me, one of our worst two periods of the year."

Fan predictions

You got the score right, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both had one goal and one assist. I'm pretty sure you meant that the Caps were going to win though so you didn't nail this one as much as it looks like you did.

Umm...just a narrow miss there.

Go home Mike, you're drunk.

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Caps finally lay an egg to end six-game winning streak

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USA Today Sports Images

Caps finally lay an egg to end six-game winning streak

WASHINGTON - Put it away. 

Honestly, what else can the Capitals say after a 5-2 loss to the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday at Capital One Arena. 

They had won six games in a row. They had just swept a four-game road trip to Detroit and the three California teams (San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim). Things were going great. That's always dangerous in the NHL.  

Use any excuse you want - a trap game before playing the powerhouse Bruins visit in two days, a letdown coming home for the first time since Nov. 29, a sleepy Monday night crowd in early December - but the Capitals were having none of it. 

"Even if you had a winning streak like this, I think it's important - when you lose, there's no easy games in this league, that's for sure,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “You’ve just got to bounce back right away. We have a good test on Wednesday against Boston. I think, right?"

Forgive Backstrom if he wasn’t quite certain that a showdown loomed with the Bruins, who have the second-most points in the NHL behind Washington (22-5-5). It’s a tough time of year for players and the calendar gets away from them.

But after eight games out of the lineup with an upper-body injury, Backstrom was just happy to be back on the ice. He even scored a goal late in the third period to cut the Columbus lead to 4-2 before an empty-netter put things away. 

Up in Ottawa, the Bruins (20-5-6) were also losing a game you wouldn’t expect: 5-2 to Ottawa. Combine the Blue Jackets and Senators have just 55 points. That’s barely more than Washington (49) and Boston (46) on their own, but in the NHL there’s too much parity to take any game for granted.

“You've got to be on top of your game or you're susceptible to ending up on the wrong end of things,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “We’ve been really consistent, obviously, through 30-plus games of doing that. Tonight, we weren't. Had a bad start to the game. It cost us.”

Consider it a humbling lesson. Just like when the New York Islanders won a game at Tampa Bay on Monday night and the lead in the Metropolitan Division is seven points for the Capitals. No reason to panic, no reason to do anything other than start a new streak against a top-level opponent on Wednesday that should give both Washington and Boston a good sense of where their game is.

Take the good and toss the bad: Backstrom is back and scored. The penalty kill, with Lars Eller playing a bigger role, was solid again at 5-for-5 and the third line of Eller. Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik played as a unit for the first time since early October. 

Braden Holtby (33 saves, 37 shots) had a great first period in goal, but gave up an ugly bad-angle shot in the third to Riley Nash just a few minutes after Alex Ovechkin had cut the lead to 2-1 in the first minute of the third period with his 21st goal. But Columbus scored three times in the third - once on an empty net. A game Washington was chasing almost the entire way turned into a deserved Blue Jackets win. Things have gone so well so far in 2019-20. Time to flush it fast. The Bruins await.  

“We were lucky it was only a 1-0 game because of the way [Holtby] played,” Hagelin said. “We started getting better and better as the game went on, but it wasn’t enough. That’s one of those games where you have to forget about it and move on.” 

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