With the wind chill hitting double-digits below zero today, it will be dangerously cold in Columbus . And yet, Blue Jackets center Artem Anisimov knows that the team needs to start getting red hot as they move into the second half of the season.
Columbus sits in seventh place in the Metro Division (18-20-4, 40 points), six points out of a guaranteed playoff spot with 40 games to play. They have two games this week against divisional opponents that sit higher in the standings. The time to make a move is now.
"Everything is going to take some time," said Anisimov. "Right now, we’re playing some good hockey, but we need to get better with our structure and puck decisions. That will make us better. Then we can climb up the standings."
Through 42 games, Anisimov has 12-8-20, with a +/- of -1. Sometimes known as a streaky player, he’s matter-of-fact about what he has to do within the Columbus system.
"I just go and play hockey," he said. "I try doing my best on every shift."
The team has a goal differential of -10, which needs to change to closer to the positive if they hope to move up within the division. With 16 games to play in the five weeks until the Olympic break, a sense of urgency has to be in each and every game they play.
Blue Jackets left wing Nick Foligno has never been one to shy away from giving an honest assessment of where his game is at. In 36 games, he has 11-13-24, with a +/- of even. He’s on pace for a career year. He knows the importance of each game and how successful teams need to roll four lines on a consistent basis.
"Absolutely," he said, "I think that’s what you saw on our 19-5-5 run last year. Every line was able to play in any part of the game because we all play the same way. We’re a four-line team. We’re a team that goes out there plays consistently every night.
"There may be some different elements on each line but, for the most part, we play the right way. We do the things necessary to be successful. It’s important. We’re doing a lot of good things right now."
They didn’t have the start to the season that they wanted, but they are starting to get the consistent play that they know they need to have to climb up the standings.
"I think that’s the biggest thing," said Foligno. "When we’re winning or losing, it’s because of us. When we win, it’s because we’re doing (the right things). And when we make mistakes, it’s because of something we’re not.
"We’re seeing the results in games and that’s because we’re working hard, doing the little things necessary to win. We’re chipping pucks in at the right times. It creates a forecheck and it gets us out of our ‘D’ zone faster and in turn, you get to play in their (opponents) end more. It’s a collective thing from our whole group. We’ve got to continue to do that down the stretch. This is the big push before the Olympic break, for sure."
Not playing a full 60 minute game has been the bane of their season. Last Saturday evening against a red-hot St. Louis Blues club was a case in point, where they seemed to fade away in the second and third periods.
Columbus head coach Todd Richards wants to see a more consistent effort from the team, each and every night.
"In this league it’s tough," he said. "You’re not going to control the game for 60 minutes. The league is too good and players are too good. But, we’ve done a lot of good things."
With the club still in the mix within the division, Richards is not surprised to be in that position with the plethora of injuries the team has experienced.
"No, I’m not surprised," he said. "We’ve dealt with adversity and we’re dealing with adversity (now). It’s an opportunity for players and it shows the depth of the organization, as far as what management has done in going out and getting the right people."
Columbus is in New York to take on the Rangers, who are four points ahead of them in the Metro and 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. This is another of the proverbial "four point" games and a "must win" as they look to advance within the division.