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Dave Maetzold

Blue Jackets winning and earning respect

 
Blue Jackets winning and earning respect
Posted December 29th, 2013 @ 12:14am

Injuries are a part of every sport at every level. Lose a star homerun hitter, quarterback, three-point-shooter or goal scorer and a season can be lost.

Skate through a season injury free and a promising season can turn into a championship season.

Just ask the Columbus Blue Jackets.

In November it was potential leading scorer Marian Gaborik. In December, it was last year's Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

In between it's been a mix of players ranging from defensemn James Wisniewski and Dalton Prout to gritty, team character guys like Matt Calvert and Derek MacKenzie.

Gaborik missed 17 games with a bruised knee, came back to play 10 minutes against Philadelphia and broke his collar bone. He's out for two more months.

But a funny thing has happened to the Blue Jackets.

Through the injuries, the Jackets-the only NHL team in the state-have found a way to win.

They have won three straight games heading into Sunday evening's game with Pittsburgh.

All three of those wins have come against Metropolitan Division opponents. The wins have moved the CBJ to the .500 level for the season and into a tie for third in the division.

And Nathan Horton has yet to play a game. More on Horton later.

Jackets coach Todd Richards told the media today that he expect to win every time his team takes the ice--including Sunday's game against the division-leading Penguins.

Injuries are part of the game. The Jackets seems to plug leaks as well as any team in the league.

Horton will be a huge plug when he returns sometime in the next 4 or 5 games.

Horton was the biggest free agent fish in the pond last summer. He had been a first round pick of the Florida Panthers, won a Stanley Cup in Boston and just completed another run to the Cup finals when he decided to switch to an Ohio zip code.

He had shoulder surgery in July. His return is highly anticipated to spark the Jackets to even higher levels.

With all due respect to Horton, this team has found a way to stay competitive even as he's working his way back.

Of course the team will be better with Horton. He'll had an element of scoring and toughness to the top-6 group of forwards. He'll add to the competition for playing time which is the holy grail for any athlete.

Yet this team of blue collar workers knows with or without Gaborik or Bobrovsky or Horton, the only way they'll win anything is by doing the work many elite athletes hav trouble wrapping their arms around.

There are no Allen Iverson's on this team. They practice. They work hard. When they work the right way, they get results.

All with at least one player tied behind their back.

This team at full strength for any stretch of the season should continue to be a viable playoff contender.

They're scrappy.

Horton will add to the scrappiness. So will Calvert when he returns.

Bobrovsky represents a confidence and competitiveness in the net that can carry a team farther that critics every game them a chance to go. (See 2012-13 CBJ season).

That team last year turned heads and earned respect.

This year's team, bruised and battered and player .500 hockey has done a lot of things to build on that respect.

They are a player or two away from earning more respect. The good news is those players are just a doctor's clearence away from joining the battle.

 

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