The NHL released its full schedule this afternoon, and we've had a chance to look over the Jackets' schedule for the upcoming season and digest a little bit. We'll give you some things we're looking at and watching for, but first let's highlight the docket.
The regular season kicks off on Friday, October 7th at Nationwide against the Nashville Predators. Of note, as Matt pointed out earlier, is that the playoff season also started out with a home-opener against the Preds. The Jackets play a back-to-back, traveling to Minnesota on October 8th; three of their first four games, however, at at home, including October 10th with the Western Conference champ Canucks coming to town.
Columbus faces off twice against Cup champion Boston, once on the road in November and hosting the Bruins on December 10th. Also of note, Columbus is not hosting Pittsburgh this year, playing them just once in Pennsylvania in February.
Beyond that, we each took a look at some specific pieces of the schedule. Read on after the jump!
What I'm Looking At - Dan P.
Last season, there were two trouble months for the CBJ: December and March. The thing they both had in common? Columbus had 16 games in 31 days in each month. In those combined 32 games, the Jackets went 9-14-9.
Consider that in the other 45 games between the start of the season and the end of February (I'm not including April, which was a lost-cause in which Columbus played five games to an 0-4-1 mark) the Jackets went 25-17-3. Obviously, it's hard to do a fair "imagine if..." kind of comparison, but had they played at that humble 53-point-45-game pace, they'd have finished with 96 or 97 points.
My point in all of this? The two months in which the Jackets had the most games--and 32 games in 62 days is a lot, when one factors in this club's travel schedule--they struggled mightily. I don't know that you can point to one specific reason for why the team struggled in those two months, though it must be pointed out that whispers about their conditioning level have followed them for two seasons, including a condensed season due to the Olympics.
It also seemed at times last season that the Jackets allowed tough losses to linger and affect them mentally. There was the back-to-back with Detroit--both tough losses--right after Thanksgiving when they were competing for Conference supremacy that seemed to weigh them down into December. And then, after coming out of the All Star Break and going 8-2-1, there was the weird, fluky loss in Nashville with the disallowed Derek MacKenzie goal on February 27th that was the first game of the five game road trip (0-3-2) and of a 1-4-4 stretch that ended their playoff hopes.
So, with all of this having been said, naturally the first thing I looked at in this schedule was the months with the toughest game schedule overall.
Thankfully, there's only one month in this coming season in which the Jackets play 16 games: March. The previous five months they have 12, 12, 14, 12, and 13. Thankfully, there is only one 16-gamer, but naturally it comes when teams are making their playoff push. For a team with a history of folding down the stretch, that's not good.
The stretch of February and March could be worse, though. In 59 days, they have 29 games. However, 13 of those games are on the road, and only seven of those are out of the Eastern time zone. And, there longest streak of consecutive roadies in that stretch is three.
So, even though there are a lot of games, and two western road trips mixed in, the Jackets won't have the insane pile up of games and traveling that has hurt them in the past. Let's just hope they're still in the hunt by that time.
Back to Backs have killed this club - particularly back to backs where one game was at home and then another on the road. Because of that, I was quite happy to see that the Jackets are playing less of them this season - still 16, but that's better, anyhow.
5 come while the team is on the road, so hopefully the "road team" mentality will help, while another 5 come with the first half on the road, and the second at home. Of those, two involve flying home from Chicago, another from Minnesota, one from St. Louis, and the final one from LA. With the exception of the LA trip, that's easy flights and minimal travel time which should hopefully keep the boys more rested and ready to go.
The more I think about it, I also like the Central Division games getting spread out a bit more - less stretches of heavy divisional lineups, and more games broken up like the stretch in October where the Jackets will play in Detroit, play Ottawa, then come home to host Detroit a few days later.
I'm circling Saturday, November 12 on the calendar, when we host the Winnipeg ______. I hope Jackets fans give Claude Noel a warm and heartfelt welcome before we blow their doors off. Plus, how about the NYE game vs. Washington? That should be one heck of an exciting game.
Though I agree with Dan that March is going to be a meat grinder, particularly that last week, if the Jackets can stay strong, they'll be in position to get a nice breather before that last short road trip, and that finale vs. the Islanders.
It's hard to give more than a gut feeling right now, but I keep thinking this is a a "Good" schedule for the Blue Jackets. I feel like there's plenty of interesting storylines, and there's some potential to make some noise. Here's hoping.
Last season started with promise, but then the team went on a disastrous tailspin in December and January, before picking things up prior to the trade deadline. After the deadline the team sputtered to a 13th-place finish in the West. I'd like to focus on what the schedule looks like in December and January of this upcoming season, to see if another midseason tailspin is in the cards.
From the 29th of November through the 6th of December the Jackets will embark on their first Western Canadian road trip, with a game in Montreal thrown in before the team heads back to Columbus. It will be the first extended road trip of the season, and the team will need to be prepared for it. Making the trek out west is tasking on the players, but these are the games where ground is made up in the standings. The Oilers and Flames aren't as dangerous on paper so far, but Vancouver and Montreal will be tough tests. Three of four on this trip is a necessity if this Columbus squad is for real.
Upon returning from this first extended roadie, the team then embarks on their first extended home stand. They'll play five straight games at home against Nashville, Boston, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay. Three of those teams were in the final four this past season, LA will be a difficult team to beat (especially adding Mike Richards) and the Jackets struggles against the Preds are well known.
The next three games are away games against division foes St.Louis, Nashville and Chicago. It goes without saying that beating the teams in your division is a requirement to make the playoffs.
Three games against Calgary (home), Dallas (away) and Washington (home) follow, with the game against the Caps falling on New Year's Eve.
The next stretch of games is another tough test- the dreaded West Coast road trip. The Jackets will take on San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim, and then they fly to Chicago before returning home for another extended homestand, this time facing Phoenix, San Jose, Edmonton and Nashville. This stretch of games will be physically demanding on the players-conditioning is the order of the day in stretches like this.
The Jackets close out January with a four game road trip where they'll face Detroit, Nashville, Tampa and San Jose.
The Canadian road trip followed by the longest home stand of the season in December may tell the story of the season. This is the point on the calendar when the contenders start to separate from the pretenders. Last season December and January killed the Jackets, let's hope for a different result this time around.
Lou's Two Cents:
The Jackets will be storming right out of the gate this October. The variety of opponents should find them well tested by the time November rolls around. While October gets off the team off to a busy start, there appears to be plenty of winnable games in the mix.
November's highlight, for me anyway, will be on the 17th when the Jackets visit the TD Garden in Boston. Sitting here in June, I'm thinking that will be a good day to bring my six year old "assistant" to his first NHL game. That is (as most things are with a six year old) subject to change.
November's opposition appears to have a similar balance to October's. The day after the Jeff Carter trade, I look at these first 24 games of the season, and I have to feel good about the first two months of the season.
Rolling into December, I have to echo Mike's sentiments about that first extended roadie into the western provinces. Presumptively, after a good camp and after a couple of good months to start the season, the team can really assert themselves with a strong showing in those four games. The month doesn't get any easier, as the Jackets then come home for a five game homestand against Nashville, Boston, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay. The end of the month is by no means easy, either. All in all, if the Jackets of October and November are for real, December will be the proof.
The Jackets start 2012 on a west coast swing to take on San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim. Three road games in four days before the All Star break against Detroit, Nashville and Tampa Bay could have the team looking forward to those few days off. The Jackets then head back to the west coast to start February.
February's highlight, again for me, is the visit on the 19th to Madison Square Garden. With the league in playoff mode by then, if the Jackets have been successful so far, then February has the potential to be an "icing on the cake" type month. Not that the opponents are pushovers, but with four good months packed away, it looks like there is a lot of parity in February.
The league, proving they have an evil sense of humor, have 16 games on the docket for March. Even though that's a lot of hockey, the balance of opponents seems to be fair. All in all, the schedule looks reasonable from the perspective of when certain opponents fall in the schedule. I know it will happen soon, but drop the damn puck already!