The Columbus Blue Jackets had the fourth-highest point total in the NHL last season, and that impressive number was only good enough for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Following the 32-point jump in the standings, the Blue Jackets look to stay among the league’s elite as they prepare to host the New York Islanders in Friday’s season opener.
“I‘m not promising anything, but we know we’re a better team than we were a couple of years ago,” Columbus captain Nick Foligno said. “Hopefully we’re a better team than we were last year just from the mental side of things.” Columbus showed it was for real by rattling off a stunning 16-game winning streak, but it had the misfortunate of drawing eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh in the opening round of the playoffs. Division rival New York missed the playoffs by one point despite winning 41 games and closing the season with six consecutive victories. The biggest story entering the season for the Islanders is the status of longtime captain John Tavares, who will be a free agent after the season and could force management into a decision at the trade deadline if the team is not in playoff contention.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, MSG-Plus (New York), FSN Ohio (Columbus)
ABOUT THE ISLANDERS (2016-17: 41-29-12, 5th in Metropolitan): Tavares scored 28 goals last season -- he has at least 24 in each of his eight seasons -- and could be centering one of the league’s most potent lines. Anders Lee erupted for a career-best 34 goals last season and will be opposite new acquisition Jordan Eberle, a former 34-goal scorer with Edmonton who was a linemate of Tavares when the duo helped Canada win goal at the 2009 world juniors. New York has a solid veteran defensive pairing in Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk but must fill the void left by the departure of Travis Hamonic. Thomas Greiss seized the starting job last season when veteran Jaroslav Halak was sent to the minors, but Halak resurfaced and played superbly during the team’s closing run.
ABOUT THE BLUE JACKETS (2016-17: 50-24-8, 3rd in Metropolitan): Columbus permitted 57 fewer goals than in 2015-16 as Sergei Bobrovsky won his second Vezina Trophy in five years, although he struggled in the playoffs. The Blue Jackets also made a trade to bolster the offense by acquiring forward Artemi Panarin, who amassed 61 goals and 151 points in two seasons with Chicago and will play alongside Cam Atkinson (career-high 35 goals) and center Alexander Wennberg (career-best 46 assists). Foligno rebounded to score 26 goals last season while young forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand and Josh Anderson will be counted on to produce. Columbus features a top young defensive pairing in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, who set a franchise rookie record with 47 points.
1. New York was 24-12-4 after Doug Weight replaced Jack Capuano behind the bench last season.
2. The Blue Jackets sent Anderson on a condition assignment to Cleveland of the American Hockey League.
3. Columbus won three of four meetings last season after the Islanders swept all five matchups in 2015-16.
PREDICTION: Blue Jackets 4, Islanders 3