Kenyon Clevenger The Hockey Writers
Blue Jackets Preseason Thoughts
The Columbus Blue Jackets played their first preseason game on Tuesday night, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks at home 5-2. Since then, they’ve lost 3-2 in overtime to the St. Louis Blues and lost 4-3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. So, the record isn’t good for the Jackets so far but there are some positive takeaways.
NHL preseason is similar to other professional sports in that it’s more about looks than numerical results. Wins and losses mean nothing until game one of the regular season. Yeah, it feels better to win games but the preseason doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. It’s a time for veteran players to shake off any rust and for young players to leave an impression. The guys that pass the eyeball test and appear the readiest for NHL play will ultimately make the opening night roster.
You can’t draw many conclusions from preseason, especially through the first three games, but I have a handful of things I’d like to discuss after getting a peek at the team thus far through training camp.
Panarin Looks Comfortable
And now for the hottest of hot takes: Artemi Panarin is really good.
The impact that Panarin will have on the Jackets has already been discussed numerous times. He is a dynamic offensive talent that can be the difference between a win and a loss. His creativity and ability to score goals will make him a fun player to watch in Columbus for at least the next couple seasons.
Now that we’ve seen him skate as a member of the Blue Jackets, most of what has been said about his game is spot on. Whenever he hops the boards, he instantly becomes the best player on the ice. If there were any questions about him fitting in with his new team, I think he has shot them down.
Pierre-Luc Dubois Has Impressed
It probably takes a lot more to impress Jarmo Kekalainen and John Tortorella but what I’ve seen out of Dubois in the past week has made me change my mind about him. I have been a doubter of Dubois for a while now because I didn’t like what I saw from him last year and in the prospects camp this summer. I had given him very low chances to make the NHL roster this season but this is not the Pierre-Luc Dubois that I saw back in the summer.
He looks to be stronger physically and mentally and overall seems to have grasped what it takes to be in the NHL. His confidence level is through the roof in his second go-around at training camp. He scored twice against Pittsburgh on Friday and even though they weren’t the prettiest of goals, he found the back of the net. Dubois is likely to make the roster out of camp.
Korpisalo’s Performance Is Concerning
I know it’s bad to overreact during preseason play but Korpisalo was visibly off his game in the first matchup vs Chicago. He gave up five goals in just two periods between the pipes against a team that dressed less than half of its usual starters. Last season, he regressed statistically. From the 2015-16 season to the 2016-17 season, his goals-against average rose from 2.60 to 2.88 and his save percentage dropped from .920 to .905.
He will spend at least this next season as the primary backup to Sergei Bobrovsky. When Bob is out, Korpisalo has to be someone the Jackets can trust. Everybody knows what he’s capable of doing. He got off to a rough start but hopefully he can put it behind him and focus on the next game.
Penalties, Penalties, Penalties
I hope NHL referees were warming up their arms and shoulders this offseason. The stripes are penalizing guilty hockey players everywhere. They’re mostly cracking down on faceoff violations and slashing and those two have been the primary offenses so far this preseason.
Through the Jackets’ first three preseason games, they have 80 penalty minutes. That’s 40 minor penalties called in just 180 minutes of action. Yikes.
It sure seems like teams will be given a boat load of power play chances this year. Could this be another attempt by the NHL to increase the scoring? The answer is yes. But it’s also an attempt to punish individual players who slash and ideally decrease the amount of slashing. It’s a good move by the league because players get hurt, sometimes severely, from Paul Bunyan hacks to the fingers, arms and legs primarily. Meanwhile, faceoff violations are already causing frustration league-wide and will likely remain a controversy all year long. It’s a nightmare so far.
We’ll see how it goes but I think teams should start using a lot of ice time to practice the power play. The Jackets have shown that their power play needs a ton of work. In three games, they have scored only one goal on 21 chances. Obviously the top power play units they’ll send over the boards in the regular season haven’t skated together in a game yet. Still, 1/21 is really bad. But, they’ll get plenty more chances if this pattern continues.
Josh Anderson is Still Unsigned
Unrelated to on-ice action, Blue Jackets management is in a stand-off with restricted free agent Josh Anderson. The 23-year-old forward played his first full NHL season last year compiling 17 goals and 12 assists. Those are impressive numbers from a bottom six forward. And maybe that’s why Anderson and his agent are expecting a larger payout than the Jackets are willing to cough up.
No one ever thought Anderson would remain a RFA late into September. Now that it has dragged this far, it has created some concern. I’m a firm believer that Anderson will be signed before opening night on October 6. It doesn’t make sense for a player that will spend most of his time on the third or fourth line to hold out for an extension into the regular season.
Eventually a deal will get done and hopefully that takes place in the next two weeks. I see both sides. Anderson is a valuable asset to the team but isn’t irreplaceable. This situation has unexpectedly become a little messy and will remain the biggest story until an agreement is reached.
The Jackets are not glowing so far this preseason with their 0-2-1 record. They’ll get a chance to win their first preseason game on the road in Chicago on Saturday night. No matter what’s going well or poorly for the team, hockey is back ladies and gentlemen. That’s the most important information I can relay at this point.
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