After a weekend of wildly different results, the Blue Jacket schedule is down to just 10 games remaining this season. The ups and downs of a young, injury riddle team have given us plenty of highs and lows over the last few weeks, and there are still more to come.
This weekend was a fine example of what this team is capable of – in both a good and bad way. First, the Jackets outlasted a desperate New York Islanders team at home on Friday, winning by a 5-4 margin in overtime.
Then on Saturday, the team traveled to Montreal to face the Canadiens – a team not far ahead of them in the standings. The second game of the back-to-back was ugly, with the Jackets dropping an 8-2 decision in a game that really wasn’t close. This high and low is an example of how the season has gone – the plucky young team found a way to compete against a much better opponent, only to have a letdown the very next night.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you believe in lottery luck), things are only going to be more difficult from here on out. The final 10 game stretch of the season kicks off tonight with a road game against the New York Rangers. The Rangers currently have the sixth-best record in the entire NHL, and have lost just two of their last ten games.
After tonight, they’ll head to Boston and face a Bruins team who may be on track to have the greatest regular season in NHL history. They’re 16 points ahead of the second best team in the league right now, and have a league-best 30-3-3 record at home. Then on Saturday, the Jackets come back to Nationwide to host a Florida Panthers team that is clinging to hopes of a wild card spot in the playoffs. They’re currently 3 points back of Pittsburgh and will be scrapping hard for points.
Less than 24 hours after the Panthers game, the Ottawa Senators will face off against the Jackets, and they should be in a great mood – they’ll be playing at home against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs the night before. As I look at the calendar, this is one of two games that I can look at and see as somewhat “winnable” for the Blue Jackets … but they’ve struggled on the second half of back-to-backs this season, with a 2-10-1 record. This includes a 5-2 loss to those same Senators in this situation last month.
After the brief homestand, the Jackets will hit the road to play at Toronto (April 4), at New Jersey (April 6), then back home to face the Rangers again (April 8). All three of these teams are league power-houses who would be tough draws even with a completely healthy lineup. The Jackets will then travel to Philadelphia to face the Flyers on April 11 – which is a game that they should be able to compete in.
This leaves just one more back-to-back to close out the season: at home against Pittsburgh on April 13, and Buffalo on April 14 in a make-up game. The last time the Jackets played Buffalo on the second half of a back-to-back was that dreadful 9-4 loss in December. Fittingly enough, their opponent on the first half of that back-to-back was the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Running through these games, I think the ones they have the most obvious chance of winning are Ottawa and Philadelphia. But the Senators game comes on the back-to-back, and we all know how the Flyers will play out the season under John Tortorella … there’s no quitting there. With Elvis Merzlikins sidelined for a yet to be announced length of time, and Daniil Tarasov also out, there’s a chance here that this team could go 0-11 to finish out the season.