The Columbus Blue Jackets ended 2018 on a high note. They started 2019 on a scary low note Friday night in Raleigh.
The Hurricanes raced out to a 3-0 lead and then held on to defeat the Blue Jackets 4-2. The key word in that last sentence was raced. The Hurricanes controlled the play and did whatever they wanted the first half of the game. The Blue Jackets stood around and mostly watched it happen in front of them. For a team that claims to be good and in the Stanley Cup hunt, they looked like anything but contenders.
Oliver Bjorkstrand and Artemi Panarin did score to make things interesting, but that’s all the Blue Jackets could muster. There just simply wasn’t enough other major contributors in this game.
Coach John Tortorella was rightfully upset after the game. According to him, there were too many part timers throughout the night. The fact that this keeps happening over and over is a red alert that they must address soon.
And by soon, I mean right now. Have you seen the upcoming Blue Jackets’ schedule?
This next stretch of games certainly won’t decide their season, but it may give us a sense of what’s to come next on several fronts.
Here are the next four games starting with Saturday night in Sunrise:
- Saturday at Panthers
- Tuesday at Lightning
- Thursday vs. Predators
- Saturday at Capitals
Saturday against the Panthers is a huge game not only because the Blue Jackets need the two points, but also because of the next three games after that. That’s why Friday’s loss in Carolina was disheartening.
Had the Blue Jackets won that game, they’d sit a point out of first in the Metro with a chance to jump the Penguins and Capitals. Instead, they sit three points back facing that gauntlet of a schedule. You’re going to lose games at some point. But to let the Hurricanes run all over you on the second of a back-to-back when you’re waiting for them to get into town is totally unacceptable for this team. How are they not ready for a big division game like that?
This month of January is judgment month for the Blue Jackets. How they do this month could go a long way in determining how February, the trade deadline, the end of the season and beyond will go.
If they defeat Florida, that’s a good first step. It’s also a good response to a dud game. Now let’s say they lose to Florida. Want to know how razor thin the margin is for the Blue Jackets?
If the Blue Jackets lose in regulation to the Panthers while the Islanders win and the Canadiens get at least a point, they’ll end the night on the outside of the playoff picture completely. Now do you see why this month is judgment month?
Let’s imagine a doomsday scenario for a moment to give us some perspective. Let’s say the Blue Jackets lose these next four games. The killer would be to division-leading Washington. They’d have a potential mountain to climb to stay in the thick of the top of the Metropolitan Division. If they were to make the playoffs, a date with the Penguins or Capitals is likely with the Blue Jackets opening on the road. They have yet to prove they can hang with these powers in a seven game series.
Realistically, the Blue Jackets need a split of these next four games. That could give them a boost to finish off the month strong. They play four games in seven nights after the Capitals game then have a nine-day break before finishing the month with the Sabres and Jets. Then comes decision month.
This four-game set is the most important set of the season for these Blue Jackets. They must come in ready to play from the drop of the puck. If not, the road gets no easier.
We know what’s coming eventually by the trade deadline. The Blue Jackets will have to decide if they keep or trade their two best players in Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. How they do in January could help them decide how to proceed.
It starts Saturday night. Their goal? Two points plain and simple. A losing streak in January is the last thing these Blue Jackets need. Considering the way the Penguins and Capitals are playing, they must bank points just to keep up.
January is judgment month. February is decision month. The most important decision in Blue Jackets history (I am not exaggerating) is coming quickly. Can the Blue Jackets answer the bell when needed most? We’ll all find out soon enough.