Blue Jackets open vs. Isles with great expectations
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Just a few years ago, much was expected of the Columbus Blue Jackets and they were a major disappointment.
Last season, little was expected and the Blue Jackets were one of the surprise teams in the NHL. A 16-game winning streak during the middle of the season propelled them to a club-record 50 wins and into the playoffs before losing to eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh in the opening round.
The 2017-18 season begins Friday night with great expectations after last year's run. The Blue Jackets are considered by many forecasters to be a top-three team in the ultra-tough Metropolitan Division and even a Stanley Cup contender.
Columbus has never won a playoff series let alone played for the Stanley Cup, and so the Blue Jackets don't want to let the hype distract them. The first order of business is the opener on Friday night against the New York Islanders.
"It's a process for a young team and we understand that," Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones said. "Our expectations in the room and within us and we're not going to listen to others' expectations outside the room. I don't think expectations matter if we don't come and play our game."
The Islanders also are hoping to make a run at the playoffs this season. They're led by captain John Taveras, who is in the final year of his contract, and they added Jordan Eberle in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers to provide more offense.
"I think we're a little more talented than we've been," Islanders coach Doug Weight said.
The Islanders' top defensive pairing is Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy.
"We have a good team and had a good preseason and want to bring it into the regular season," Boychuk said. "Everybody can step in the lineup and contribute and that's what we need."
Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak likely will share the goaltending duties. Greiss, who signed a three-year, $10-million contract extension during the offseason, will start Friday night.
Weight infused the Islanders with some energy when he took over as interim coach last season. They went 24-12 after he replaced Jack Capuano and ended the season with a six-game winning streak.
Weight begins his first full season behind the bench and is working toward making this team a playoff contender.
The Islanders, who were outscored 13-2 in games at Nationwide Arena last season, will be without Shane Prince and Cal Clutterbuck against the Jackets.
The Blue Jackets mostly kept their roster intact in the offseason. The big addition was scoring threat Artemi Panarin from the Blackhawks, sending Brandon Saad back to Chicago after two years in Columbus.
Panarin, who is out to prove he is more than Patrick Kane's sidekick, should challenge forward Cam Atkinson for the team lead in goals and points this season. Panarin had 151 points in 162 games the past two season, which is tied for seventh most in the NHL. Atkinson scored a career-high 35 goals and had 62 points a season ago.
On Tuesday, the Jackets ended a contract impasse with 22-year-old forward Josh Anderson, who had 17 goals and 29 points in 78 games last season. Anderson was sent down to the AHL on Thursday on a conditioning assignment after missing all of training camp during his holdout.
Also missing will be injured forwards Boone Jenner, Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak.
Columbus has one of the top defensive pairings in the league with Jones and Zach Werenski. But the success or failure of this team revolves around star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who will sit while backup Joonas Korpisalo starts the opener.
"I like our D," Jones said. "I think we're very fortunate to have the youth and to be able to grow together. That needs to be a huge part of competing in this league."
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is not ready to make any bold predictions about the season. He realizes how tough the Metropolitan Division will be again with the Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers and the potentially improved Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes.
"It's exciting to me to see a team that took a step last year get younger and faster," Tortorella said. "We're a faster team. Each year a different set of positive and negatives. I feel really good about where we're at right now."
Updated October 5, 2017