When a team is said to have potential year after year, at a certain point people start believing that potential is unfulfilled.
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As the saying goes, potential is often a nice way of saying something simply is not very good right now.
Scratch the potential from Columbus Blue Jackets in that case. If you have not noticed, this team is very good.
How good? A playoff team, for sure, at this rate. Actually, at this rate, this might be much more than a playoff team.
With a 7-3-2 record -- good for 16 points in 12 games -- Columbus occupies a share of fourth place in the Western Conference heading into Friday night's games. Yes, the only team that has never qualified for the playoffs currently sits in a position that would give them home ice advantage in the first round.
To those who have followed the Jackets for several seasons, it comes as both a surprise and as no surprise. In reality, the team is certainly talented enough to be a contender. Rick Nash is one of the game's premier power forwards, and he is surrounded by a host of skilled forwards.
The defensive corps, led by Adam Foote and Rostislav Klesla, is more than adequate. And highly touted goalie Pascal Leclaire has more than lived up to the potential this season, posting four shutouts in October.
Yet little changed from the past two seasons in terms of personnel. Without question, coach Ken Hitchcock has had more time to implement his system, which features accountability at all times in all areas of the ice.
Columbus features a strong forecheck, yet the same five man unit is always backchecking to near-perfection. Even when they give up a large number of shots, as they did Thursday when the Ducks posted 34 shots on goal but scored just once, the chances are limited.
Wednesday at Staples Center, the Kings got their chances, but Leclaire was there to turn all but one away. The next night in Anaheim, the Ducks got plenty of shots, but backup goaltender Fredrik Norrena had to make very few spectacular saves.
When the opposing team creates sustained pressure, the Jackets are able to execute a bend but don't break philosophy to perfection. The goalies play with confidence, knowing the five skaters will be in solid defensive position. By the same token, the forwards and defensemen play with confidence knowing Leclaire or Norrena will come up with the big stop when called upon.
Columbus may limit goals against as well as any team in the league, but nobody would call them a boring team. The Jackets play with an entertaining, physical edge to their game, and two newcomers play a big part in creating that style.
Michael Peca, one of the game's best penalty killers and faceoff men, has brought his gritty game to the Ohio capital. Long considered a skill team lacking the grit to win, Peca is just what the Jackets needed.
Rookie Jared Boll has made far more of an impact than his two goals and roughly seven minutes of ice time per game would suggest. In the two California games, Boll was evident on every shift.
The rough and tumble Boll went from a one-dimensional enforcer to one of the best players on the USHL's Lincoln Stars between his first and second seasons, then continued his junior career with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers.
His career path has continued an impressive progression with Columbus. Against Los Angeles, he drew a penalty on an early shift, then it was his work screening Kings' goalie Jason LaBarbera -- Tomas Holmstrom-style -- that led to the second Columbus goal.
Against Anaheim, he made the most of limited ice time, throwing his weight around and taking on Travis Moen in an entertaining second period scrap.
The energy infused by the likes of Peca and Boll seems to have carried over throughout the lineup, as the Jackets play with a definite edge to their game.
It is probably early to sell playoff tickets in Columbus, but the thought of playoffs has to have front office staff excited. After drawing sell-0uts virtually every night since they entered the league in 2000, crowds have been down this year, frustrated with the lack of playoff berths.
Unless something drastic happens, look for all that to change. These Jackets are for real, and a playoff berth seems much more than likely
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