Blue Jackets still fighting with 26 games remaining
After 56 games played to a record of 26-27-3 and 359 man games lost due to injury (tops in the NHL) going into Saturday night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, the horses are on the track and the homestretch is coming into sight.
It’s been a season beyond belief in regards to the sheer number of injuries and the quality of the players that have been injured. The quintessential Murphy, of Murphy’s Law fame, has seemingly carved out a spot in the dressing room for himself, as almost anything that could go wrong, did this season.
Second-year center Boone Jenner is in his second stint on Injured Reserve since being placed there on December 20 with a stress fracture in his back. He has played in merely 20 games for Columbus this season.
Second-year defenseman Ryan Murray, upon who there are many high hopes and expectations, is on his third tour of duty on Injured Reserve (high-ankle sprain) this season. He started the season on IR while recovering from off-season knee surgery. He has played in just seven games for the Blue Jackets this season.
The list of the walking wounded that had a place on IR this season reads like a "who’s who" of the Blue Jackets roster. Brandon Dubinsky, Mark Letestu, Artem Anisimov, James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin and Scott Hartnell make up part of that list. Most missed significant time due to injuries.
After signing a seven-year deal with Columbus on July 5, 2013, right wing Nathan Horton has played 36 games of a possible 144 since donning the union blue. He spent the first half of the 2013-14 season recovering from shoulder surgery. He’s been on the Injured Non-Roster list since October 5, 2014 with a degenerative issue in his back. The jury is still out on whether he’ll ever play another NHL game.
The second-place team for man games lost to injury is the Colorado Avalanche, trailing Columbus by 45 games. The Metropolitan Division has six teams in the top-ten for man games lost with New Jersey (4th at 250 lost), Pittsburgh (5th at 248 lost), Philadelphia (6th at 242 lost), New York Islanders (7th at 212 lost) and Washington (8th at 198 lost) in addition to Columbus at the top.
This is the reality of the injury situation this season for the Blue Jackets. The players, coaches and management are loath to use the injuries as an excuse for the less-than-stellar performance of the team this year. But, it is a major contributing factor.
For comparison, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost 529 man games due to injury last season. And despite the number of injuries, they were able to pull their season together and finish first in the Metropolitan Division with 109 points. They were able to do this by utilizing the experience of their players that have been in the league and in playoff runs. They knew what it takes.
Columbus is still the youngest team in the NHL, with an average age of 26. Although they do have veterans on the team, the majority of the players have only played a few years at this level. Maturation takes time, and the core players are the ones that will lead the way. They will get healthy, they will get better and they will mature.
With time winding down on the season, they believe they can make a push for the playoffs. They have not been eliminated from contention yet. Their remaining games are split evenly at 13 home and 13 away. And within those 26 games are 12 divisional games (6 home, 6 away). Those are the proverbial "four-point games". All but 8 of the remaining games are against Eastern Conference teams.
For the Blue Jackets, it all comes down to 26 games in 50 days. And that starts Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
The Blue Jackets take on the Montreal Canadiens at 7:00 p.m. and you can catch all the action on FOX Sports Ohio beginning at 6:30 p.m. with the "Blue Jackets LIVE" pregame show.