After tough loss, Jackets now wait and watch
And now the wait begins.
Having just finished a stretch that had them playing five games in seven days in four different time zones (thank you, NHL lockout), the Columbus Blue Jackets now find themselves in the position of watching the NHL scoreboard. After the loss to Los Angeles Thursday night at the Staples Center, the Blue Jackets don’t play until Sunday, when the six-game road trip resumes in San Jose.
Meanwhile, the resilient Dallas Stars hit the road in St. Louis Friday night, and the Detroit Red Wings will be in Vancouver Saturday. Columbus received precious little help from Vancouver Thursday, when the Canucks were pummeled by the Stars 5-1, in a game that marked the return of Dallas’s number one netminder, Kari Lehtonen.
By Sunday, when the Blue Jackets are back in action, both Dallas and Detroit will still have a game in hand on Columbus. After the game in Los Angeles, the Blue Jackets still had a two-point lead on both the Stars and Red Wings, but they’re in a position now in which they’re going to need help from teams playing Dallas and Detroit, AND they’re going to have to take care of their own business, as well. Likely, Columbus will need a minimum of five or the remaining possible six points in their last three games, if not all six. It isn’t an ideal scenario, but the fact the Blue Jackets’ playoff hopes are very much alive is still one of the most compelling stories in the NHL.
Aside from the tough regulation loss to the Kings Thursday, the Blue Jackets lost winger Matt Calvert to a broken finger. Every team has had its share of injuries in this compacted NHL season, and Columbus is no exception. Losing Calvert, though, takes away a forward whose confidence and productivity have been skyrocketing. And with his speed and relentless forechecking style, Calvert has been emerging as a legitimate game-breaking forward, one who has become a nightmare for opposition defenders, especially when he has been able to blast through the neutral zone at full speed. This Columbus team has been resilient all season long, and now it will have to find a way to play without the high-impact Calvert, who is likely on the shelf for a while. Luckily, Artem Anisimov, who was felled by an open-ice hit from Charlie Coyle in the Minnesota game Saturday, is skating again and may be back Sunday for the game against the Sharks.
You may have heard Columbus TV play-by-play man Jeff Rimer say during the Thursday game in L.A. that he had been contacted by Hockey Night in Canada studio legend Don Cherry about Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout. It was only a matter of time before the rest of the hockey world started to recognize what Prout has done in a mere 25 games for Columbus this season. After scoring his first NHL goal, the only goal the Blue Jackets scored Thursday in their 2-1 loss to the Kings, Prout now has a goal and four assists and – more remarkably – is a plus-15. In all but one of his 25 games, Prout has been even or plus, and the only time he was a minus, it was minus-one in a 5-1 home win vs. Calgary. He has played well beyond his experience and has been a settling influence on the Blue Jackets back line. It’s a great story, and the young defenseman from Ontario deserves at least to be mentioned in discussions about the 2013 Calder Trophy.