The Hooley -- Monday, March 27

posted by Bruce Hooley -

It's nice to have a playoff spot locked up with eight games left in the season. Typically, that allows you to relax, but the Columbus Blue Jackets can't even think about taking it easy yet.

The Blue Jackets' 1-0 win over Philadelphia on Saturday kept them in contention for the best record in the National Hockey League as they get ready to host Buffalo on Tuesday night.

You see NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball teams sitting their regulars once a playoff berth is locked up. The CBJ clinched a post-season trip about a week ago, but they're still grinding and will probably keep throwing goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky out there as the season winds down.

There are two reasons for that.

No. 1...as great as this season has been for the Jackets, setting records in victories and points, they still could face a home-ice disadvantage in Round One of the playoffs if they don't keep winning.

Reason No. 2 Bobrovsky will be in net most every night...right now he's far and away the primary reason the Jackets are winning.

And Sometimes the only reason.

Columbus starts the week with 103 points, three back of Washington and tied with Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division.

The team with the most points at the end of the season will open the playoffs at home against the eighth seed in the East.

The teams that finish second and third in the Metro? They get to play each other, even though those two teams will likely have no worse than the third- and fourth-best records in the entire NHL.

So the Blue Jackets could have the third-best record in all of hockey and still not earn a home-ice advantage in Round One if Pittsburgh and Washington finish ahead of them in the Metro. That stinks, but that's the way it is.

And both the Capitals and the Penguins aren't showing much sign of slacking off.

The Pens are the defending Stanley Cup champions, while the Capitals are determined to reverse their long history of playoff pratfalls.

Both Pittsburgh and Washington have something the Blue Jackets don't -- a feared scorer. The Pens have Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin, while the Capitals have Alex Ovechkin.

High-level scorers like that, teamed with outstanding goaltending, makes for a tough combination.

The Blue Jackets can only hope to match Washington and Pittsburgh down the stretch because of Bobrovsky.

The CBJ's 1-0 shutout of Philadelphia was Bobrovsky's NHL-best seventh of the season and lowered his goals against average below 2 per-game.

That's also the best in the NHL, as is Bobrovsky's save percentage of .934.

So all Bob's numbers for the season are great, but they're nothing compared to how dominant he's been in March. He's 8-0-1 with a 0.99 GAA, a .970 save percentage and 4 shutouts.

Bobrovsky has allowed one goal or less in seven of the nine games he's played.

Bob isn't doing it alone, of course. The defense around him has been good, particularly young defensemen Zach Werenski and Seth Jones.

But this reminds me of the legendary TV call of the Miracle on Ice, where right before Mike Eruzioni scored the game-winning goal against the Russians in the 1980 Olympics, Ken Dryden said, "The U.S. is depending a little too much on Jim Craig right now."

That's exactly how I feel about the Blue Jackets. They are depending way too much on Bobrovsky.

The power play, which led the NHL in conversion rate for about half the season, has gone dark. Over the last month, the Blue Jackets are converting just 14% of their chances with the man advantage.

That's down 10% from where they were, and from the success rate of the best power-play units in the league.

Of course, it's better to have a strong penalty-kill unit in the playoffs than power-play unit, if only because officials rarely call penalties in the playoffs, and certainly don't call them in overtime.

But the Blue Jackets haven't carried the action to their opponents nearly enough in the past week. Bobrovsky faced 45 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss at Washington on Thursday that head coach John Tortorella knew could have been much worse.

“He steals us a point in Washington,” Torts said. “We could have been down by five in that game and he steals us a point. (He was) not as busy (against Philly) as he was in Washington, but he's locked in."

The Jackets aren't still in contention for the best record in the NHL and the No. 1 seed in the East without the three points -- one in Washington and two Saturday against Philly -- Bobrovsky got for them by stopping 79 of 80 shots.

You'll notice the Blue Jackets have a better record over the past month than the three teams they're battling for the President's Cup despite having far-worse Power Play success over that span.

POWER OUTAGE

Team                  Record               PP%

Columbus         11-3-2                .147

Blackhawks      10-3-1                .212

Capitals             9-5-1                   .204

Penguins           9-3-3                   .244

As for who is hot for the Blue Jackets on offense, that's Boone Jenner, who will join us at 6:20 a.m. Tuesday on Spielman & Hooley on The Zone.

Jenner has 7 goals and 5 assists in the last 21 games, a stretch during which the team is 14-5-2 and has won 10 in a row at Nationwide.

Hopefully they extend that to 11 on Tuesday night against Buffalo.

If you were watching the end of the North Carolina-Kentucky game on WBNS 10-TV, you weren't watching the end of the game. Instead, you were getting weather ramblings.

And a very terse, Get Off Our Lawn, statement from 10TV.


John Calipari was not happy with the officiating in the loss to North Carolina. 

Kids say the darndest things. At least they do when Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton is talking to the 6-year-old son of Tribe general manager Mike Chernoff.

You can hear Hammy all summer long on 1057TheZone, because we are the home of Indians baseball.

It's a shame that this shot didn't count. And if you're partial to Bucky the Badger, or the Big Ten, it's a shame that this one did.

Fret not, Ohio State fan, even with Archie Miller off to Indiana (very bad news, since it means the end of IU underachieving, the candidates will be robust to take over for Thad Mata whenever he decides to walk away.

Until that day comes, don't forget that the coach we have ain't no slouch.


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