The Columbus Blue Jackets are off to a 3-1-0 start thanks to their 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday. Artemi Panarin broke a 1-1 tie in the third period by scoring a beauty, his first goal as a Blue Jacket. After killing a late penalty, Lukas Sedlak came out of the box and iced the game with an empty netter, his first of the season.
Panarin and Sedlak became just the fourth and fifth Blue Jackets to score a goal on the young season at forward. Despite the strong start in the standings, the Blue Jackets find themselves looking for consistency up front.
Oliver Bjorkstrand played just three shifts for a total of 2:00 in the third. Played just 9:01 tonight. #CBJ
— Mark Scheig (@markscheig) October 14, 2017
Mixing & Matching
This became clear again in the third period on Friday. With the game tied at one, coach John Tortorella made a switch putting Oliver Bjorkstrand on the fourth line while moving Pierre-Luc Dubois up with Sonny Milano.
This kind of thing is something we should get used to. Tortorella said that it is his responsibility to make those kind of calls in-game with players based on how they are competing. If a player is struggling, he will find himself either on the fourth line or on the bench. In the case of Bjorkstrand, he has two assists in his four games this season. But he’s not playing up to his potential.
By the end of the game, this is how the Blue Jackets lines looked.
The Blue Jackets want to find chemistry and combinations that work. Tortorella even considered breaking the top line up before the third period but decided against it. As it turns out, it was a wise decision.
This is Not the First Time This Season
Think back for a second to the game Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes. With the score deadlocked at zero in the third period, Tortorella made what turned into a game-changing move.
Milano started the night on the fourth line with Hannikainen and Sedlak. Milano ended the night by scoring the game-winning goal in overtime. Milano was dangerous all night and deserved the chance to play higher in the lineup that night.
Dubois played well to that point in the first three games, but found himself on the fourth line to end that game. Although Dubois ended Tuesday on the fourth line, he ended Friday on the second line.
This kind of mixing & matching will be the norm for the foreseeable until the Blue Jackets find chemistry on all their lines. Part of the issue here is that the team is not healthy at the moment. Mainly, the team misses Boone Jenner in a major way.
Boone Jenner’s Absence
Because of Jenner’s injury and Anderson’s early absence due to the status of his contract, the Blue Jackets had to play with a young lineup. When you have a young lineup, you have to see what you got. This involves finding combinations that click on a game-by-game basis.
Jenner embodies how the Blue Jackets like to play. He plays a physical game and can add offense. The issue here is that he’s dealing with a back injury where there is no time frame for his return. He is officially day-to-day with a middle-body injury.
Recall Jenner dealt with a stress fracture in his back a couple of seasons ago. He missed two months at that point. We don’t know if he’s dealing with a similar issue now. The fact the team hasn’t talked specifics with this injury is a bit concerning.
There isn’t a sense that it’s a long-term issue (as he’s listed as day-to-day.) But as the days go on, one must wonder what’s really going on and when will we see him again. He’s an important part of the lineup and would bring stability and chemistry throughout the lineup.
What to Watch For?
With such a young lineup, you can expect the Blue Jackets to continue to tinker with their lines in-game to find something that works. Also consider their fourth line will rotate Hannikainen, Dalpe and eventually Jordan Schroeder (once he returns from a conditioning stint.) They all want playing time.
So what should we watch for? Let’s see who performs well enough to earn a more permanent spot in the lineup. Let’s see which fringe player steps up and convinces Tortorella to keep him in the lineup.
There’s opportunity in the midst of the merry-go-round. As long as the team continues to look for consistency, the merry-go-round will stay in motion. It’s now up to Tortorella to find the right combinations.