Anybody up for a road trip?
After hosting eight games in December, the Jackets will hit the road for nine match-ups, traveling approximately 12,424 miles along the way. Columbus begins a three-game western road swing against Arizona tomorrow night with games in Colorado and Dallas to conclude the trip.
Last season, January was the magic month: A 10-4-0 run, the club’s most successful January in history, spurred the Jackets to a late playoff push. Determining whether or not Columbus will experience such luck this time around amounts to a toss-up.
Half of Columbus’s opponents sit in the top half of their respective divisions. Four of the month’s 12 opponents will play Columbus for the first time and the team’s cumulative record against the other eight stands at 7-5-2. Long road trips can wear down teams, but the Jackets have actually won five of their past seven road games.
When climbing back into playoff contention, every game is key, regardless of the opponent. However, there are a few that stand out above the rest.
Jan. 6 @ Dallas Stars
The game will conclude a three-game western swing and could be a trap game for a travel-weary club. Combine that with facing the league’s best goal-scorer in Tyler Seguin, who registered a hat trick last time out against Columbus, and the second hottest team in the league, Columbus needs to keep its head on a swivel. The game will also mark Kevin Connauton’s first game against his former club.
There is a silver lining: Dallas’s Kari Lehtonen’s goals against average ranks third-worst among goaltenders with at least 25 starts, partially because the Stars allow over 31 shots per game. Given the difficulty of the western conference, drawing three of the west’s weaker clubs could catapult Columbus into another run.
@AlisonL Connauton is a unexpected source of scoring for #CBJ – need this to make p/offs plus continued quality net play
— Larry (@forestswede) January 1, 2015
Jan. 10 vs. New York Islanders
After missing the playoffs last season, the Islanders find themselves atop with Metropolitan with Pittsburgh. In most offensive categories, the Islanders rank in the top tier of the league, largely thanks to the duo of John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Jaroslav Halak’s 2.26 goals against average contributes to the cause as well. Realistically, it would take a heroic run and historic collapse for the two teams to pass one another in the standings, but the game is both the first divisional match-up and the first home game of the month. Energy will be an element to watch with the Jackets scheduled to play in Toronto the night before, but Mark Letestu is due back sometime around this game. How would a marquee divisional game make for a return?
Jan. 16 vs. New York Rangers
Columbus currently sits nine points behind the Rangers for the final wild card spot while the two clubs trail Washington by ten and one point respectively for third in the Metropolitan. In short, every game against the Rangers is vital and the Jackets only have three more chances to slow down the Blue Shirts.
New York came to town for Columbus’s home opener, the only meeting between the two teams, where a sold-out crowd propelled the Jackets to a 4-1 start and 5-2 win. However, Cam Talbot was in net instead of Henrik Lundqvist and Nick Foligno will be the only Blue Jacket available who scored a goal against New York, barring a Marko Dano recall and speedy recoveries from Cam Atkinson and Artem Anisimov.
Jan. 27 vs. Washington Capitals
Washington has a big target on its back and Columbus will have only two more chances to personally shorten the gap between itself and the Capitals. This season, the Jackets have posted a 1-1-1 mark against Alex Ovechkin and company, including an overtime thriller in Columbus.
All three games were decided by two goals or fewer and there’s no evidence to suggest this game should provide any less excitement. This is especially the case given both teams will have been off for approximately a week prior to the match-up.
Huge problem for #CBJ on that last RT…the next two hottest NHL teams are Rangers & Caps, which Jackets have to catch in Metro.
— Rob Kunz (@RobKunz_) December 29, 2014
Jan. 29 @ Florida Panthers
Florida currently sits six points ahead of the Jackets in the wild card race and the game will be Columbus’s last chance to knock them off. It’s hard to believe the Panthers are contending for a playoff spot given last year’s record, but Roberto Luongo and an active offense have kept the team afloat.
If history is any indicator, it’s good news for Columbus: The Jackets have not lost to the Panthers since Nov. 21, 2007.