Straight Jackets: Revisiting five big preseason questions

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
The Blue Jackets bench

First, a few things regarding the NHL All-Star Game.

One, I love hockey, and will watch just about any televised broadcast of professional players playing it.

Two, my sense is that the players enjoy playing in the All-Star Game. It looks like it would be fun to be in, to more freely explore the creative aspects on the game.

The NHL has, like many pro leagues, tried to figure out how to keep the game — even the entire All-Star weekend — interesting. The skills competitions are a treat to watch. And I'm not opposed to the 3-on-3 games. I actually like that for overtime in regular-season games, so it's not the circumstance of play that made the All-Star matchups... tedious.

Straight Jackets isn't going to solve the issue here, so one last All-Star thought: It would have been nice to see Joonas Korpisalo there. The Jackets' net-minder was named to the roster but missed the game as he continues to recover from a knee injury.

And there's your segue into the rest of this week's Straight Jackets.

At the nominal halfway point of the season, let's look back at our "five big questions" and see how the team has answered each.

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What's gonna happen between the pipes?

This obvious question was at the forefront given the departure of a two-time Vezina Trophy winner. Going in, I fully believed that General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen's plan was to bring in Elvis Merzlikins, who was playing in Europe but had been drafted by the CBJ, to compete with Korpi, and to let the players sort it out. Early on, when both were struggling, this was a real concern. But Korpi got right (he was named an All-Star) and, after returning from from injury, Elvis did the same. Now the concern is how Head Coach John Tortorella will handle playing time when both are healthy.

Who's gonna score?

Again, given offseason departures, this was perhaps even a bigger concern than the goalie position. The answer, early in the season, seemed to be "no one." Or maybe, "Sonny Milano with a spectacular goal every so often but otherwise no one." The answer has become "everyone but no one a whole lot." With Cam Atkinson struggling then hurt, Josh Anderson struggling and hurt, and Oliver Bjorkstrand hurt, the team figured out how to get everyone (even, at times, Alexander Wennberg) involved on the score sheet. Cam and Bjork are back, and both announced their return with goal-scoring flourishes. This is a good sign, because it's good to sometimes not wonder where your scoring is going to come from on a given night.

Wither Wennberg?

Sigh. He's been better, but only a bit. And he does bring certain elements — vision, smarts, experience. But I still feel underwhelmed. I'd call this question unanswered, but at some point, no answer has to be your answer, right?

Special teams

The club added veteran NHL coach Paul MacLean to the staff in hopes of making some sense of the power play. It hasn't really helped. Along with the answer to who's gonna score, figuring out this long-standing CBJ conundrum would take a lot of the burden off of the defense and goaltending. It doesn't seem likely at this point, though, so barring a short-term burst, this question appears to have been answered in the negative.

A third top-two blueliner?

Whither Ryan Murray? Or is it, "wither?" Yeah, he's hurt again. Yeah, he was quality, if not outstanding, before the injury. At this point, you just have to take whatever you can get from the former No. 2 overall draft pick. I'd say this one has also been answered with, "No."

In summary

Given the team's poor start to the season and plethora of injuries, that the Jackets were in a playoff spot at the All-Star break was so unexpected as to have generated muttering around the league of Torts as a Jack Adams Trophy (Coach of the Year) candidate. Big questions remain to be answered. Can the unproven goalies keep it up? What has the team learned by having to play so many to get this far? How will Torts integrate the rest of the injured as they return? Will Nathan Gerbe stick with the club once that happens? (Let's hope the answer to that one is a resounding, "Yes.")