What a weird week it has been for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
They opened their week by handing the Washington Capitals just their fifth regulation loss of the season. Things were looking up, right? But then in Pittsburgh, the Blue Jackets turned in just a dreadful performance in a 1-0 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. They had just 17 shots against a depleted lineup. It was a game coach John Tortorella said was one of the most embarrassing performances he’s been a part of since becoming their head coach.
Then on Saturday, old pal Anthony Duclair burned the Blue Jackets for a hat trick including the game-winning goal in overtime. The Senators won the game 4-3.
Why was this a weird week? That’s because on most weeks when you take four out of a possible six points, you feel pretty good about yourself. That is not the case in this scenario however.
The Blue Jackets got at least one point in every game this past week. But it was the way it went down which makes it feel awful from their perspective. They handily beat the best team in the NHL on their home ice 5-2. Then they come back with that performance against the Penguins and then can’t beat a team in Ottawa which they should beat most nights?
That’s been the story of the early season for these Blue Jackets. Inconsistency is the only consistency. One night they play a great game and can beat anyone. On another night they get handed their lunch by a team at the bottom of the standings.
Once the dust settled Saturday, the Blue Jackets find themselves with just 12 wins in 32 games this season. With six overtime losses on their record, they have 30 points which puts them 26th in the league standings. Three teams are either tied or within a point of the Blue Jackets: Senators, Blackhawks and Kings. It could get worse in a hurry.
The Coming Week
Now let’s fast forward to this upcoming week, the last full week before Christmas. This week will define the season to date for these Blue Jackets. Why? That’s because they have winnable games. But they may have to do it without the services of some key players.
The Blue Jackets have a four-game week starting Monday night against the Capitals. Then they play the three worst teams in the NHL in Detroit, Los Angeles and New Jersey, the last two of which are at Nationwide Arena.
You normally do not throw must win at three games in December, but in my mind this is an exception. If the Blue Jackets hope to even think about trying to make something out of this season, they must win those three games against teams below them in the standings, simple as that. While that sounds good and easy, it won’t be. Who knows which team will show up on those nights?
Coming into Sunday, the Blue Jackets trail the second wildcard spot in the East by nine points. That’s a huge mountain to climb as we start to wind December down. They have to start winning consistently or else we start thinking about the future sooner.
If they can’t take care of their business against the Red Wings, Kings and Devils, three teams clearly thinking about the future now, then the Blue Jackets better join them in the futures conversation.
The Blue Jackets need these three wins just to keep pace. They should be favored and expected to win these three games. If they can’t do that, then it becomes clear that the playoffs are out of reach. At that point, it’s time to shift their focus for the rest of the season. There’s no better opportunity to win this season than right now when the schedule is favorable. Can they take advantage of this?
- The Blue Jackets roster stands at 22 as of Sunday morning. With Josh Anderson, Sonny Milano and Ryan Murray all up in the air, watch who the team calls up. That’ll give us some clues as to what their status is. The Blue Jackets have Sunday off after canceling practice and will have a full morning skate on Monday.
- Forward Kole Sherwood has been skating with the team and could be nearing a return. That could be one of the players to jump in given the above injuries.
- What do the Blue Jackets do in goal? Elvis Merzlikins was performance pulled after allowing two goals Saturday and almost a third, but that was reversed on an offside challenge. We recently wrote about the dilemma the team has. Joonas Korpisalo can’t play every game. With an upcoming back-to-back Monday and Tuesday, does the team trust Merzlikins to play in Detroit? Fascinated to see how the team handles this.
- Andrew Peeke is a player. In his five games, he has impressed. I will be fascinated to see how the team handles this when everyone is healthy. We also talked about this here.
- I wonder if the Toronto Maple Leafs make sense as a trade partner for the Blue Jackets? They each have what the other wants. The Leafs need defensemen and the Blue Jackets need forwards. Especially if Peeke stays in Columbus longer term, there’s stuff that makes sense in here. How would Kasperi Kapanen look in Union & Blue? What about right-shot David Savard in Toronto? I could see it.