McGreevy: Injuries to defensemen sting Blue Jackets

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It’s doubtful that Steve Mason jerseys are selling as well in Columbus this year as they did during the 2008-09 season, although despite Mason’s 3.31 goals against average in 39 games, not all of his statistics could have been improved by keeping the stick down and glove high.

Much of the inconsistency in the cage could be attributed to injuries to the Blue Jackets’ defensive corps. Throughout the season, Columbus has been forced to change defensive pairings and alter matchups due to a heavily populated injured reserve.

Most recently, the Blue Jackets suffered a monumental setback when Fedor Tyutin sustained a broken hand after blocking a shot on March 6 vs. Phoenix, and he’s expected to miss the remainder of the season because of it.

Until the injury, Tyutin had been Columbus’ most reliable defenseman. He played every game up to that point, and along with consistency in front of the net, Tyutin also contributed offensively with 26 points through 66 games.

Three days after losing Tyutin, the Blue Jackets lost another solid defenseman in Marc Methot after he sustained a season-ending jaw injury in a game against the Dallas Stars.

Despite being bitten by injuries in recent games, Columbus’ plight actually started seven games into the season when Radek Martinek was placed on the injured reserve. The veteran defenseman would have brought nine years of NHL experience to the Blue Jackets blueline but instead he was forced to hang up the skates prematurely as a concussion put him out for the season.

Out of the teams’ top six defenseman, two are done for the season and one is doubtful to return.  Despite the disadvantage, the interim-coach Todd Richards can at least take solace in knowing which spots need to be permanently filled and which spots require temporary replacements.

Arguably, it has been the month-long injuries that have hurt Columbus the most.

In late December, James Wisniewksi missed 17 games with a broken ankle and nearly one month later, Nikita Nikitin took a 12-game hiatus after sustaining a knee injury against the Red Wings.

The Blue Jackets struggled to make quick adjustments when Wisniewski and Nikitin were sidelined. In its first five games after losing Wisniewski, Columbus allowed 18 goals. Similarly, in the Blue Jackets first five games after losing Nikitin, they surrendered 19 tallies.

Even smaller scale injuries stung the team, such as those to defensemen Aaron Johnson, Brett Lebda, and John Moore. Although their absences never lasted for longer than five games, the injuries forced the Blue Jackets to make impromptu changes to its back line.

These changes often prompted call-ups from the team’s minor league affiliate, the Springfield Falcons.

With all of these modifications to the lineup, it has been hard for Columbus’ defensive pairings to create chemistry. In recent games, Richards has paired Jack Johnson and Wisniewski, Aaron Johnson and Nikitin, and Moore and Lebda.

After taking a few games to settle in, the team has played much better with stability on the blueline, which in turn has allowed them to start churning out more wins and keeping more pucks out of their net.

In their first eight games in March, Columbus’ goalies had a much-improved 2.25 GAA average.

Individually, Mason has played better which could be a result of confidence or familiarity with the men in front of him – his save percentage in the past five games is 94.6% compared to his season percentage of 89.4%.

Although the injury bug might not have bitten its final victim on the Blue Jackets squad, it appears that for now Columbus has established a better sense of unity in its own zone, and it’s paying dividends.

– Mathew McGreevy, Contributing Writer
@mcmatthew4

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