Blue Jackets Enter Season-Defining Stretch

The Columbus Blue Jackets are in an interesting spot in the overall standings. While it’s not the best spot in the world to be in, opportunity awaits them in this upcoming stretch.

The Blue Jackets will start the new week in last place in the Metropolitan Division thanks to their lack of finishing games in the first 60 minutes. They have the same number of points as the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. But the Rangers have played one less game and the Devils have more regulation wins.

So while being in last place is not what the Blue Jackets want, hope is not lost. In fact, thanks to several teams being bunched together at the bottom of the standings, the Blue Jackets find themselves only six points out of a wildcard playoff spot. With 63 games left, making up these points is a realistic goal.

If the Blue Jackets want to make this happen, they have to start playing more consistently. A 3-2 overtime win on home ice against the defending Stanley Cup champions is a nice start. But it’s time for them to build off of that.

Zach Werenski Blue Jackets
Zach Werenski helped the Blue Jackets secure the second point on Friday night. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Thanks to their upcoming schedule, the Blue Jackets have an opportunity to build momentum. Including the game Friday against the Blues, the Blue Jackets started a stretch of eight games out of their next 10 at Nationwide Arena. Check out this 10-game stretch and how manageable it can be.

  • vs. St. Louis (3-2 OT win)
  • vs. Montreal
  • vs. Detroit
  • at Winnipeg
  • vs. Ottawa
  • vs. Philadelphia
  • vs. Pittsburgh
  • at New York Islanders
  • vs. Arizona
  • vs. New York Rangers

Given the Blue Jackets current record of 7-8-4, these 10 games can and will dictate how the rest of the season could go. It is imperative that they find consistent success at home. But if you’ve followed this team for any length of time, you know that this has been a struggle.

The question we need to ask is what would make for an acceptable 10-game stretch? The two road games aren’t going to be easy. But the homes games here are all winnable. If the Blue Jackets want to make this interesting, they have to take advantage of the schedule. Let’s break down the scenarios to give you an idea of how it could shake out.

Possible Scenarios

The Blue Jackets have 18 points in 19 games to start the season. They have 63 games remaining overall. Let’s say they play .600 hockey the rest of the season, that’s 75-76 points. That would put them at 93-94 points which would put them fighting for a wild card spot.

The Blue Jackets playing .600 hockey for 63 games is a bit optimistic given how the season has started. But it is not out of the question. If the goaltending continues their recent run, it’s doable. Both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins are over .915 in their last 4-5 outings each.

The key is their top guys. Cam Atkinson needs a couple to go in. Josh Anderson needs to take over games the way he can. Seth Jones needs to hit reset and put the first 19 games behind him. If these three are going, .600 hockey is within reach.

So in a 10-game stretch, .600 hockey is 12 out of 20 points. With nine games left in this stretch, that’s 10 of 18 points. That can be achieved as 5-4-0, 4-3-2 and so on. They don’t have to be perfect, but they need to take care of business. That was a huge second point against the Blues Friday.

5-4-0 and 4-3-2 should be viewed as a minimum threshold for this exercise, especially given the number of games at home. The schedule will get harder as the season goes on. In my mind, 6-3-0 or thereabouts is a realistic goal when you consider that there are teams on here the Blue Jackets are better than. 6-3-0 in these nine games would put them right in the thick of the race.

Now don’t forget. The Blue Jackets have an ally on their side should they choose to utilize it. That’s cap space. If the team can take full advantage of this stretch, that’s a sign that they could chase down a playoff spot. Then maybe management looks into bringing in some help up front. However if the Blue Jackets blow this opportunity, then perhaps we start considering the lottery and its implications there.

That’s why this stretch of games is season defining. Do well and you’re right in the race. Do bad and you start looking to the future. It’s now up to the Blue Jackets to take of business at home. It starts Tuesday night against Montreal.

Do we have a race to the wildcard or a race to the lottery? We might start to know when this stretch is over.