In the first installment of Blue Jackets By the Numbers, we’re going to compare all of the returning forwards’ statistics from 2009-10 to 2010-11.

It is no surprise that Rick Nash is at the top fo the list once again. With his 66 points (down one from last season), he put up exactly the same the same points-per-game ratio at 0.88 per game, also the best on the team. Second this season was RJ Umberger, at 0.70, just slightly up from the season before.

The Conundrum That is Jake Voracek
This season, Voracek was elevated to the first line for the majority of the season, where he played alongside (when healthy), Derick Brassard and Rick Nash. At times, the line was unstoppable, and other times they couldn’t seem to find each other or differentiate their head from their rear ends. Jake played just one fewer game this season than last (two games missed due to Scott Arniel’s Healthy Scratch Hammer of Doom™), and put up just four fewer points. So why the drama over his lack of production? His 46 points were only one less than his highly-lauded linemate Brassard, and his plus/minus was better (though still not great). Yet as the season winded down, Voracek was the whipping-boy, with his rough twelve game slump. But why was Voracek so unappreciated over Brassard?

Speaking of Brassard…
Yes, he did look as good as we thought. His ice time jumped over two minutes a game on the average, and in five fewer games, he had eleven more points. It’s safe to say that he stepped up to the plate in his new role on the top line. 47 points, however, is underwhelming for a top-line guy playing beside Rick Nash, but he made strides in the right direction.

Second Line, Where Are You?
Kristian Huselius was limited this year to only 39 games, nearly half of what he played the season before. But when he was in the lineup, Juice and Antoine Vermette were absolutely unacceptably ineffective for a second line – 0.59 and 0.57 PPG, respectively, and down from 0.85 and 0.79. Why haven’t Huselius and Vermette received the kind of slack Voracek has? Sure, Juice wasn’t healthy, but when he was, he wasn’t good. And Vermette had an absolutely brutal season: a drop of 18 points without losing any games to injury. The only saving grace for the second line was the predictably predictable, never-wavering RJ Umberger and his 57 points. The second line – if this is the second line in 2011-12, HAS to be better.

Secondary Step-Up
Andrew Murray lost  most of his year to various injuries, but Weighty put up one more point (8) in only 29 games this season. Derek MacKenzie, finally seeing his first full-time action, stepped up just as beautifully: 23 points in 63 games, while averaging 2:09 more a game. For a fourth-line grinder sometimes thrust into top-line duty, D-Mac took the increased role on well.

Everything about Saturday night’s game was a perfect representation of how the 2010-11 season came and went. There was an optimistic start – flying, in fact – and moments that made the sell-out crowd come off their seats in excitement. There were moments that made the members of each team’s respective fanbase cower in their seats shaking their head. There was a heart-breaking turning point that would ultimately cost the Jackets; and an agonizing, painful end to the game.

Derek Dorsett got the Jackets on the board early in the second with a tricky, quick wrap-around past Ryan Miller. It was only Dorsett’s fourth goal of the season and his first since February 1. From there the scoring was fast and furious: three minutes later by Buffalo’s Pominville, four minutes after that by Buffalo’s Butler, another four minutes later by Buffalo’s Ennis. The Jackets finally got back on the board by another unexpected goal scorer, Jared Boll, who would notch his seventh (first since February 4th, and two more than his career best) on a rebound off of a Matt Calvert shot. Going into the third period it was 3-2 Buffalo.

This game clearly meant more to Buffalo than to Columbus, but for the first half of the game, Columbus was really fast and furious and looked nothing like the team they had been for the last month. Like they were prepared to send the season out on a positive note. Guys were playing for jobs, playing for future contracts, and playing for one last shroud of dignity. One last chance to leave a lasting impression in the minds of the disgruntled fan base. But they got sloppy, just as they had after the trade deadline and had been in December.

2:37 into the third period, a guy who could potentially be playing for his future with the team in Kristian Huselius, notched a goal past replacement goaltender Jhonas Enroth, and for the better part of the third period it was a tight 3-3 game. But then something happened in Craig Rivet’s aged little brain and he went absolutely ballistic, cross-checking a former teammate in the head, and would be escorted to the locker room at the 11:44 minute mark with 17 PIM. Immediately, on the five-minute major, Stafford and Gaustad would go back to back to give the Sabres a 5-3 lead with more than six to go.

Much to the dismay of the Jackets fans in attendance, things weren’t looking good. But hey, familiar feeling, right? Kristian Huselius would make it interesting, briefly, by scoring a PPG with 0:23 to go, but it wasn’t enough. The Sabres won the last game of the Blue Jackets season, and sucked the life out of Nationwide Arena. A game – and a season – that once held so much energy and promise, slowly, gradually, spiraled in and out of control until one, fine breaking point that would send them over their edge.

RIP, 2010-11.
Thanks for the memories, even though they weren’t so great.

Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Who is this team, and what have they done with the Columbus Blue Jackets?

In Pittsburgh, everybody showed up to play. The defense was solid – especially the play of frequent scapegoat Anton Stralman. Paired with Hejda, he was a +4 (note: actually +3, the NHL’s statistics gave him credit for the first goal, which he was not on the ice for). Rick Nash got the scoring going early with a beautiful one-timer fed by Derick Brassard. Samuel Pahlsson scored on a delayed penalty, Voracek on a partial break, and Vermette tucked one through on a Pittsburgh giveaway to lead the Jackets to a 4-1 victory.

Cue the excuses. Pittsburgh has no Crosby. No Malkin. No Kunitz. Despite injury trouble, Pittsburgh is (including the L to the Jackets), 7-3-0 in their last ten. That is not a struggling team. The Jackets were simply a better team than the Penguins last night, and for that they prevailed on the scoreboard.

 

Photo: Terry Gilliam/AP Photo

And then they came home to meet San Jose…

For the first twenty minutes, they were buzzing. With two big power play goals from Kristian Huselius and Grant Clitsome, it was suddenly 2-0 Jackets with a whole forty left to go. Unfortunately, the chances stopped coming, despite a massive 44 shots on goal. Niemi stood tall after the first, even when guys like Derek Dorsett and Jakub Voracek peppered him relentlessly with shots (8 and 7, respectively). Even with San Jose’s three unanswered goals, the foot was never entirely off the gas pedal, perhaps just slowed in the middle frame. A heartbreaker. Can’t win them all, but it would have been nice to take that one. 

Where we are: 12th place, Western Conference, -6 points from eighth place Calgary

What’s next: Friday vs. the Foote-less Colorado, 7pm

 

(Photo: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

It started off ugly, and much like many nights the Columbus Blue Jackets have seen this year: lazy defensive plays, penalty trouble, screened shots, and a 2-0 opponent lead before the first period had even settled down. RJ Umberger ignited some life into the team late in the first when some criss-crossing plays with Derek Dorsett cut the deficit in half. It would be just the beginning of what would turn out to be one of Umberger’s career nights with the Blue Jackets.

Kristian Huselius, who one night before in Detroit had become the most recent victim of Arniel’s doghouse, returned in place of Chris Clark. Combined with Umberger, the two were responsible for all four goals and creating opportunities that prior to his benching, Huselius was not finding. The game was tied at two in the second period when Umberger and Huselius connected in front of the net, drawing Khabibulin aside to allow Huselius a half-empty net to shoot at.

John Moore in his NHL Debut (Photo: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

The third period would be a brand new game. One that, as usual, the Oilers would jump out to an early lead in, when Paajarvi would net his second of the game. But Umberger, with two points already in his pocket, wouldn’t let the game go so easily. He took the puck from Kris Russell and worked through all kinds of traffic to get the puck past Khabibulin and tie the game yet again on his nineteenth goal of the season. Huselius would give the Jackets the lead for good just over two minutes later when Russell – the puck moving defenseman – did just that and moved it up the ice to Umberger, who handed it to Huselius to beat Khabibulin. 4-3 Jackets, and that would be the final score. For a team who looked awful in the early going, they recovered nicely on a monster night by their second-line forwards.

Tonight’s Stud: RJ Umberger, of course. Two goals, two assists, and yet another three-period 100% effort by Umberger. Honorable mention: Kristian Huselius.
Tonight’s Dud(s): Russell and Clitsome were out for all four Columbus goals, but gave up a few brilliant chances to the Oilers. Can’t happen that way. Honorable mention: the first line – combined for 13 shots, but all three were minus two with little legitimate offensive impact.

 Notes:
Despite penalty trouble early on, all seven goals were even strength.
— Umberger now has 19 goals, just 7 off his career-high of 26 with the Jackets in 2008-09. Twelve points off his career high of 50.
— Russell, probably partially responsible for the first Oilers’ goal, managed to finish the game a +2 with two assists. The fourth-year defenseman had an ugly night, but was out for all four Columbus goals.
John Moore made his NHL debut and played 12:05. He was a -1, but had a relatively quiet night on the ice. He didn’t look overly nervous or jittery at all.
— Rookie Matt Calvert played just 5:07, only taking four shifts after receiving a high stick in the first. Back on the fourth line after a one-game promotion, he and his linemates all played five minutes or under.
— Three players had a multi-point night: Umberger (4), Huselius (3), and Russell (2).
— This team is not afraid to throw their weight around: Methot & Murray each had six hits. Derek Mackenzie had 3 in just 4:17 TOI.
Rick Nash had eight shots on goal. Yes, eight.

NEXT GAME: Tuesday at Pittsburgh, 7pm.

AP Photo

Due to a roller derby commitment, I’m watching this game on a sixteen hour delay, so have some observation notes on last night’s game versus Detroit:

Kristian Huselius was a healthy scratch. He became the eleventh player on the current roster to fall victim to Arniel’s willingness to sit his expensive underachievers.
– How good is Matt Calvert? The kid plays like a guy with more intensity and maturity than a rookie should. He stepped up to the second line in place of Huselius and brought breath of fresh air to the line. He complements Umberger’s style very well, giving Vermette two wings that battle and can get him the puck – as they did on his laser beam of a shot that beat Howard. But can Arniel continue to keep Huselius out of the lineup?
Rick Nash had a goal waived off for goaltender interference (by Brassard) shortly after Vermette’s goal. Normally that causes a momentum shift, but it didn’t slow the Jackets at all.
– Detroit had plenty of opportunities, but couldn’t capitalize on any of them. Steve Mason stopped all 34 shots thrown his way (another 12 shots were blocked, and 12 more missed the net). He showed Vintage Mason, with poise and confidence. Hopefully the team’s recent roll has him feeling good.
– That was the first-ever shutout by the Blue Jackets in Joe Louis Arena. Yes. The first.
Jared Boll potted his sixth goal of the season, his single-season career high, and the nineteenth of his career. He currently sits at 10 points in 42 games. His career-high is 14 in 75 games.
– Since being paired with Grant Clitsome, Kris Russell has begun playing like he has been expected to all season. He hasn’t buried the puck recently, but he’s moving the puck out of the zone and creating opportunities for the forwards, without sacrificing his defense. It’s a surefire sign he trusts his defense partner. Everybody’s a Clitsome fan.
– Alyssa over at Hockeytown Beat has a great recap of the game. Be sure to check it out.