It seems like everyone is watching the standings with great interest as the NHL season winds down. While playoff races have narrowed, several teams are still jockeying for points as they try to squeak in at the last moment. At the other end of the spectrum, we find the Blue Jackets, who are fighting for positioning as well: the best odds at the first overall pick. This week could go a long way towards deciding the worst record in the NHL this season.
The Jackets are on the west coast, making their annual California trip, which kicks off tomorrow night in San Jose against the Sharks. This could be the biggest game of the season for both teams; they’re the 31st and 32nd place teams in the NHL. The Sharks (50pts) sit just three points ahead of the Jackets, but they have played two additional games. A Columbus win here puts them in prime position to pass San Jose in the standings.
The Sharks rightly gutted their roster at the trade deadline, even trading away star forward Timo Meier as they enter the hard rebuild. It seems like it’s been a long time coming for San Jose, who has had a competitive team for as long as I can remember. They still have some quality pieces around, but this team is a long way removed from the glory days of Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, and Joe Pavelski.
They’ll enter tomorrow night’s game on a three-game losing streak, in which they’ve been outscored 15-4. They are a serious contender for the bottom spot in the standings, and on paper, even the Jackets arguably look like the better team right now. Still, they have game changers at key positions, including Erik Karlsson – who is running away with the scoring lead amongst defensemen in the NHL.
After Tuesday’s game, the Jackets head to Los Angeles where they’ll face a rejuvenated Kings team that has lost just one game since acquiring defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo from the Blue Jackets. Then, they’ll make the trip down to Anaheim to face the Ducks the very next night, which is another crucial matchup in the race for the bottom.
Anaheim (54 points) is currently 7 points ahead of the Jackets, but like the Sharks they have two more games played. A win here is equally detrimental to their first overall bid. The Ducks also have a mostly gutted roster, but they’re similar to Columbus in that they have a young roster led by some bright talent, as well as some wily veterans that can help steal a game here and there.
The Jackets will then head to Vegas for a matinee matchup on Sunday, before heading back east to faceoff against the Capitals in Washington. In my opinion, this five game road trip will probably make or break their Connor Bedard odds. If they come away with points in San Jose and Anaheim, things get really interesting. If they come away with 6 or more points on the entire trip, they will probably have played their way out of cellar.