The Jackets sit at 19-20-4, and sit in seventh place in the Metro division. They are currently six points out of the third-place playoff spot, and have at least one game in hand on the three teams in front of them. They sit five points--with a game in hand--behind tonight's opponent Carolina for the final wild card spot.
In other words, they're not way out of it, but they have some serious work to do. After a four-game road trip saw them have leads in each game only to finish 2-2-0 (and to have lost two bad games and barely escaped New York with a win), the Jackets have been treading water a bit. The silver lining is that they're finally starting to get healthy. Sergei Bobrovsky and Nathan Horton are back in the lineup, and Matt Calvert and Dalton Prout are set to return tonight. Blake Comeau is now on IR, but you'll trade four coming back for one going out any time you can.
Columbus has 15 games between now and February 7th, or a span of 29 days; that's basically a game every other night until the break. With most of the team having a nice two week break and having had three nights off, it should afford them the ability to sprint until the break.
And, with all of that in front of us, the schedule--while tough--affords the Jackets a real chance to make a small move heading into the break. And, here are some reasons why:
Even though tonight and tomorrow presents a tricky back-to-back with a home game and then a flight to Winnipeg (seriously, NHL?), the Jackets' schedule for the rest of January is home-heavy. Between now and February 1, the Jackets play nine of 12 games at Nationwide Arena. There are some tough opponents coming into Columbus, but just the same the team is at home, they don't have a tough travel schedule (other than Winnipeg, they go to Buffalo and Raleigh, neither of which are out of the time zone or flights longer then 90 minutes). They do head into the break with a tough west-coast roadie, but prior to that they have a chance to do some damage at Nationwide.
Some Bottom Feeding
While there are several tough games on the upcoming schedule, three stick out as games that could provide a nice chance at a win: two against Buffalo, and one against Florida. While those two clubs are playing better of late, if the Jackets want to win, they're going to have to beat the teams they should beat. These two teams are teams they should beat.
A Division Storm
The Jackets have five of their next 11 against Metro opponents, including two each against Washington and Carolina (third and fourth in the division, respectively). Four of those five games are at home (including both against the Caps and one each against Carolina and Philadelphia). Those 10 points are crucial, and the Jackets need to show that they can be a force at home again.
I'm not here to tell you that this is when the Jackets WILL make a push to get into better position before the Olympic break. I'm here to tell you that, most likely, we'll know a LOT more about whether they can be a playoff team over these next four weeks. There are some areas of concern (taking their foot off the gas with a two-goal lead, for example), but they've been playing well enough of late in terms of their system and their effort to make some hay over this stretch.
Now it's up to them to show us whether they believe it, too.