Anyone looking at the Blue Jackets knows that the thirteen games leading up to the Olympic break are important. Eight of the next thirteen on home ice, four of them against division opponents, could be a good way to push the team "above the bar", particularly since they're only five points back of the Rangers and Capitals for second place in the Metro, and carry two games in hand on more than half of the teams currently above them in the standings.
Here's a few other reasons.
I'm going to give you the Goal Differentials for the third place, wild card, and 9th/10th place teams:
-6, -8,-9, -15, -9.
Columbus? Currently a -3.
That's not only better than the Rangers, Flyers, Red Wings, Leafs, and Senators, it's actually good for third best in the Metro, and 5th best in the East overall. If this team continues the trend of scoring in bursts and keeping the opponents out of their net (particularly now that both Nathan Horton and Sergei Bobrovsky are healthy), there's a strong chance that's going to climb.
Speaking of scoring, did you know that Columbus' 126 goals for is actually better than the Flyers, Rangers, Devils, and Hurricanes? Not bad for a team that spent the last month with a goal of treading water.
In the goals against department, things aren't quite as rosy - but there are still six teams in the East at the same level (129) or lower, and four more teams that are only six goals or less above them. That's a good sign for the team keeping with the pack defensively, particularly when you consider how that's been pumped up by a few fairly dramatic collapses.
In fact, if you look at league wide stats, the Jackets are sitting at 17th overall. Not quite enough to say they're getting goaltending and defense equal to a playoff club, but not so far off the mark, either.
Oh, and of those 13 games before the Olympic break? About half are against teams with equal or worse goals allowed.
Just Win, Baby
The other thing that's in the Jackets' favor is the fact that 18 of their 21 wins have come in regulation or overtime. While the Jackets are just behind New York and Philly with 21 and 20 respectively, they're still keeping close to the pace compared to the competition for the division, and well ahead of Washington and the Islanders, who both sit at 14 ROW right now.
The more this team takes care of business without requiring a shootout, the less they have to worry about tiebreakers, because we all know how that can end.
So, they're winning the way they need to. They've been scoring just slightly less than they've been scored on, and there are reasons to think both will improve. They have games in hand that could be turned into points to push ahead of some of their competition, and a good chance of building up some momentum before the Olympic break thanks to a friendly schedule.
Any time you have human beings involved, it's impossible to say things will go exactly according to a mathematical prediction. But if the team can keep to the trends we're already seeing, and perhaps improve on them?
Great times might just be ahead.