The Oilers are on the tail end of a back-to-back tonight in Columbus. Like all clubs, they’ve had some lows, and they’ve had some highs. Which club will the Oilers see tonight? I’ve got some questions about all of that.
We consult with @PaleDragonCbus over at SB Nation’s The Cannon to get our answers.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Then we’ll begin.
Copper and Blue: Columbus enters tonight’s game at 5-4-2, which isn’t very good, but not altogether disastrous. What’s worked out so far? What hasn’t worked out as well as one would hope?
The Cannon: I’m actually pretty happy with where the Jackets are so far, record-wise. Many around the league assumed the team would bottom out completely, so a team that hangs around the playoff line and is competitive in most games is a win for me, as a fan. What has worked? The goaltending has been sufficient. The team has played a more defensive-oriented system to help the goalies and that has worked. The scoring has been balanced, though lacking a reliable playmaker. What hasn’t worked is certain forwards - like Cam Atkinson or Josh Anderson - struggling to finish. What REALLY hasn’t worked are special teams. It’s been a complete dumpster fire that has the fanbase up in arms. Read more about that here: https://www.jacketscannon.com/2019/10/23/20926727/the-power-play-is-terrible-and-it-is-high-time-the-coaching-staff-answers-for-it-brad-larsen
Copper and Blue: Joonas Korpisalo has played in nine games so far this season for the Jackets. He’s had some fine outings (a pair of 30 save efforts against Carolina and Dallas earlier this month), but he had one he’d like to forget when he allowed five goals in the third period against the Flyers this past Saturday. Which goaltender is Joonas Korpisalo?
The Cannon: That Flyers game was an outlier, and the 5 goal collapse in the third period was largely due to defensive breakdowns and untimely turnovers by the skaters in front of Korpi. He has come a long way from his days as a seldom-used backup behind Bobrovsky. He has increasing confidence from being the #1 guy, finally, and he has made some technical tweaks to his game from previous seasons. He is more efficient with his movement in the crease, more solid on his positioning, and his rebound control is significantly better. On most nights opponents don’t get many second chance shots.
Copper and Blue: Pierre-Luc Dubois is tied for the team lead in points scored with 7 in 11 games so far. He was on a trio with Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson last game against the Flyers. Is this trio the best line on the Blue Jackets? Would you change anyone on it?
The Cannon: PLD has been a one man wrecking crew this season. It’s very comforting considering most of his first two years were spent playing with Panarin on his left wing. It’s hard to identify the top line for the Jackets because Torts has blended the lines so much. Foligno has been pretty solid this season but I’d prefer to see a more skilled player on that line. I would move Josh Anderson or Oliver BJORKSTRAND from the right side to the left, or use Gustav Nyquist. There are young players like Sonny Milano and Alexandre Texier (unfortunately he just went to the IR with a knee injury) who have earned more minutes and could play there as well.
Copper and Blue: Tell us about a player or prospect that’s due for a breakout season in Columbus.
The Cannon: We added several rookies to the mix on the forward lines, but the best rookie from my point of view has been defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov. He has made a very quick adjustment to North American ice after playing in the KHL. He’s a big, strong stay-at-home defenseman and when paired with David Savard they form one of the best pairs in the league in terms of fewest expected goals allowed per 60 minutes. Unfortunately, they look to be split up for now, with Savard paired with Markus Nutivaara and Gavrikov paired with Dean Kukan. Still, thanks to Gavrikov’s play, this team currently has three second pair defenders in the bottom 4. That doesn’t include the injured Ryan Murray.
Copper and Blue: Finally, does this club make the playoffs in April? Why, or why not?
The Cannon: Before the season, I predicted 93 points for the Jackets. I stand by that. Unfortunately that likely won’t be enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. That being said, I think there is enough talent on this team to at least stay in the mix for most of the season. Losing elite players like Panarin and Bobrovsky hurts a lot, obviously, but there is still a young, talented core in Columbus. There’s an elite defensive pairing with Zach Werenski and Seth Jones. Cam Atkinson scored 41 goals last season. Nyquist, Dubois, Anderson, and BJORKSTRAND all scored 20+. There is a lot of upside to youngsters like Texier, Bemstrom, and Gavrikov. There’s a deep enough roster to compete with anyone in the league, just not the elite forward or goalie that a team can ride for a deep playoff run.
Thanks go to The Cannon and @PaleDragonCBus.