It comes down to fifteen games and six points. Ahead of the 44th game of the season, that’s what the Blue Jackets have left before they take an extended break for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
That is fifteen games in which they must make a push to climb the standings in a mediocre Metropolitan Division. They are six points behind the third place Washington Capitals. With the exception of the Capitals, they have at least a game in hand on every team above them in the division.
Of those fifteen games before the break, nine of them will be played within the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena. At home, they sport a 9-9-2 record (20 points).They need to go better than 4-4-1 (9 points) on their home sheet of ice in those nine games. The traditional adage still holds some weight, in that if you win your home games and split your road games, you’ll make the playoffs.
If this were to happen, they would garner a record of 12-3-0 over these fifteen games worth 24 points. This would see them vault up the divisional ladder into a playoff spot, with five of these games against three divisional opponents in Carolina (twice), Philadelphia and Washington (twice). Is this a realistic expectation of what they can achieve in fifteen games?
In a word, the answer is no. All but three of the fifteen games are against teams with more points than the Blue Jackets current 42 points. Buffalo has 29 points and Florida with 40 points, and the only two teams with less points than Columbus. A more realistic expectation would be for the Blue Jackets to go 8-4-3 for 19 points over that span of games. They have the talent to do this and have shown a recent propensity to play a more consistent level of hockey.
Past the halfway point of the season, time is of the essence. Yes, this is the youngest team in the NHL. Yes, they dug themselves a bit of a hole that they must climb out of. And yes, winning these games is no small or easy task.
But, they finally have a mostly healthy roster with which to make a solid run. The major offseason acquisition, Nathan Horton, is finally in the lineup. The team needed to basically tread water until he recovered from the shoulder surgery that he underwent in July, 2013. That’s just what they did, going 17-19-4 before his debut in Union Blue against the Phoenix Coyotes. They are 2-1-0 since Horton returned to the ice.
After 43 games, they have a record of 19-20-4 (42 points). Their goal differential is coming down, with it currently at 117 goals for and 126 goals against. It now sits at -9. Every game is very important and they must have the mental fortitude to look at each game as the most important game of the season. They’ve said this numerous times going back to last season. The will is there, but can they find a way?
The first of these fifteen games goes down tonight within Nationwide Arena as they host the visiting Carolina Hurricanes. This is the second game of five times that they will meet the ‘Canes. They won the first meeting before the Christmas break in Carolina 4-3. The Blue Jackets have won six straight times versus the Hurricanes. The puck drops at 7 p.m.
– Yesterday, Columbus activated forward Matt Calvert off Injured Reserve. While only suiting up for 17 games this season, Calvert is 4-4-8 and holds a +/- of +3. He’s been out of the lineup since sustaining an upper body injury on December 21, 2013.
– Two Columbus defensemen, Cody Goloubef and Frederic St. Denis, have been named to the 2014 American Hockey League All Star roster. This is Goloubef’s first appearance and St. Denis’ second in the AHL All Star game. Goloubef is 4-11-15 (+7) and St. Denis is 8-13-21 (+12), both in 34 games for the Blue Jackets AHL-affiliate Springfield Falcons.
– Yesterday it was announced by Columbus that Senior Advisor (Hockey Operations) Craig Patrick was leaving the organization to take a similar role with the Buffalo Sabres. President of Hockey Operations John Davidson said, "Craig is a consummate professional and gentleman who brought valuable experience and insight to the club and for that we are grateful. He was presented with a terrific opportunity in Buffalo and we wish him all the best."
The thing that I’ll remember most fondly about Craig Patrick was from earlier this season. We had a lengthy interview after lunch one day. He answered some questions and he regaled me with some hockey stories from years past, including the Gold Medal winning 1980 US Men’s Hockey team.
About 11:00 p.m. that evening, after I had gone to bed, the phone rang. It was Craig Patrick apologizing profusely for calling so late. He told me he had been reading a book to his grand-daughter and it reminded him of something that his father had said to him. How he made the connection from a children’s book to something his father had said many years ago about hockey, I have no idea.
Earlier that day, we had talked about how each generation of hockey players seem to be stronger, faster and developing their skills quicker than the one’s before them. He told me his father said to him, "He said to me, ‘you players are so much better than we were. You are bigger, faster and stronger. You guys are way better.’ He said this to me when I was a kid playing hockey and I see it still, to this day."
He then apologized again for calling so late. The fact that he took the time to call me up with an anecdote that his father had said to him that he thought would be germane to my story, speaks volumes about the man.