After winning away games both Friday and Sunday, the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey team hikes to a 20-5-4 season record. They bring their so-far successful run back to Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night for the start of four home games.
WOSU's Debbie Holmes talked to Columbus Dispatch sports writer Aaron Portzline about the Blue Jackets' success, the training that brought them here, and what to look for in the coming weeks.
The below is an automated transcript. Please excuse minor typos and errors.
Debbie Holmes: Well, first, let me say I do have some hockey credentials, being a hockey mom and a hockey wife - both of them are amateurs. Now, to the Blue Jackets, they've never performed this good for so long, correct?
Aaron Portzline: Well certainly at the start of the season, this is the best start in franchise history. It's the quickest they've ever gotten to 40 points, a club that has historically stumbled out of the gate is off to the best start in franchise history and has the most points per game in the National Hockey League. So this is a real about-face for them and a breath of fresh air, because they've spent the last several seasons digging out and trying to overcome their starts, and now they've had the start that they've been wanting for quite a while.
Debbie Holmes: Now, during some of the games, it does seem that it does take them a while to get going. So who is the spark for this team?
Aaron Portzline: Yeah, that's a that's a great question with many answers. It's a different person each night. Sergei Bobrovsky, the goaltender, has been really, really good this year, the most wins in the league. He is healthy, which is the biggest part for him. He's missed time in the previous three years, each season, with groin injuries, and he is 100 percent healthy. He lost 17 pounds in the off-season. He was not out of shape. He just had become muscle-bound and now has lost a ton of that muscle mass. And they think it made him quicker and made life easier on his joints and ligaments, so no injuries for him to this point, which has been big.
Bobrovsky has been a really good player, but there are so many. I mean, there's so many players that have emerged. Zach Werenski, the 19-year-old defenseman has really changed this team, has been a big part of the change among their defensemen, where they're much more mobile, much quicker. They are more apt to carry the puck up the ice and move the puck up the ice.
Debbie Holmes: And they have a lot more energy in the third period as well, and it's leading, I guess, to more confidence.
Aaron Portzline: For sure, and it's you know how confidence breeds in sports: Once you get a little taste of it, it grows and grows. In the last 14 games, they have scored teams 22 to 4 in the third period. I think another aspect of this is the training camp they had under coach John Tortorella was the most physically demanding that I have ever seen, and that many veteran players said they have never been part of anything like it either.
Debbie Holmes: Can you give us a little taste of that?
Aaron Portzline: The first five or six days had nothing to do with pucks and sticks. They skated and they skated. It reminded of the scene in the great movie Miracle, the movie about the 1980 Olympic team where Herb Brooks is blowing the whistle and screaming, "again," and just skating his players.
Debbie Holmes: Oh yeah, I've seen that movie.
Aaron Portzline: Yeah. It wasn't done as punishment. And at the end of each of these sessions, John Tortorella would walk around the group in center ice, smack players on the rump with the stick, which is a term of endearment in hockey, and say, "This is all going to be worth it. We're going to be the best third-period team in the NHL this year. You will get a reward for this."
Debbie Holmes: The Blue Jackets will have four games this week at home. Tuesday, they play the Los Angeles Kings and then it's Pittsburgh, Montreal and Boston. What do you think their chances are in these games?
Aaron Portzline: Well I think Los Angeles is going to be a tough game for them. Not so much about the opponent but the fact that they're coming back from a West Coast trip with one day in between the games. That is historically very difficult, getting to play, time-change wise.
The game that will be emotionally wrought with passion and excitement will be the Pittsburgh game. Both of these teams are playing exceptionally well right now. They're both at or near the top of the Metro division standings. It is a budding rivalry that all it needs is for Columbus to sustain some success here before I think it really takes off as a rivalry.
You know, the other thing that you look now, these games at home, is when do the crowds start picking up and getting large because the team is playing so well. There's always a lag effect. But one gets the sense that the fans are starting to get into this and that the building is going to start picking up in terms of attendance.