Jackets Proving You Can Win Without Scoring Much … in Regular Season

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 5:14 PM UTC

Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017 5:14 PM UTC

The Columbus Blue Jackets have had no playoff success in their brief franchise history. Might that change this season behind a dominant defense?

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ first NHL season was in 2000-01. The franchise – buried in its own city in terms of importance by Ohio State football – has barely made a splash in terms of national appeal as Columbus has never won a division title and has reached the playoffs just three times, never winning a series.

The old adage is that defense wins championships, whether it’s the NFL, Major League Baseball (pitching), the NBA or the NHL. That might be true, but you have to have SOME offense. That’s why the 2017-18 Blue Jackets will be such an interesting team to watch in next spring’s playoffs. They are one of the East’s best clubs behind a stellar defense but a bottom 10 team offensively.

Can you win a Cup that way? The Jackets are up to +1200 to win the Stanley Cup on Bovada’s NHL futures, behind only Tampa Bay (+700), Toronto (+800) and St. Louis (+800) as of this writing. Columbus is +600 to win the East, behind the Lightning (+300) and Maple Leafs (+425).

The Jackets have likely the NHL’s best goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky. The 29-year-old Russian is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner (2012-13 and last season) and backstops the NHL’s No. 3 defense this season in goals-against. Bobrovsky could win the goaltending Triple Crown as he leads the league in GAA (1.92), save percentage (.935) and is tied for second in victories.

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There has not been a back-to-back Vezina winner since the legendary Martin Brodeur won the third and fourth of his career in 2006-07 and 2007-08. However, Bobrovsky is the clear Vezina favorite on the NHL futures right now and is the biggest reason this team is a ridiculous 8-0-1 in games decided after regulation (remember, there are no shootouts in the Stanley Cup playoffs). The Jackets’ only loss was 5-4 in a shootout at Tampa Bay on Nov. 4.

We all knew that Bobrovsky was great. What’s surprising about Columbus battling for the most points in the Eastern Conference is doing so despite having a below-average offense that ranks 22nd in goals scored per and dead last on the power play at 8.8 percent. Too often, the power-play unit plays too far from the goal and doesn’t generate dangerous shots around the net.

The only player with multiple power-play goals is Oliver Bjorkstrand with two. The entire team has six. Coach John Tortorella has tried different personnel on both man-advantage units and devoted chunks of practice time to tuning the power-play, all to no avail.

That’s not to say there are no offensive positives on the team. Rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 draft, is playing so well that he’s now centering the No. 1 line alongside Josh Anderson and offseason acquisition Artemi Panarin. Anderson leads the Jackets in goals and he’s just 23. Zach Werenski is among the NHL leaders in goals by a defenseman.

On the flip side, Cam Atkinson, who signed a seven-year, $41.125 million extension in mid-November, is struggling to score after leading the Jackets in scoring in 2016-17 when he had 62 points and scored a career-best 35 goals. Some of the slow start could attributed to a lower-body injury that sidelined Atkinson for four games and a shooting percentage of 8.8 that has been below his career average rate of 11.3

A small-market team like Columbus can’t afford a financial misstep like that. The deal put Atkinson under contract with the Blue Jackets through the 2024-25 season, further into the future than any other player on the team. It also made him the club’s third-highest paid player behind Bobrovsky ($7.425 million) and Panarin ($6 million). The Jackets at least kept Atkinson from becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer.

What to do from an NHL betting perspective on Columbus? Expect plenty of one-goal games and keep hammering the ‘under.’ The Jackets are among the ‘under’ leaders this season at 60 percent of their results. Only the three California teams, the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, have been better ‘under’ bets.

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