We're getting closer and closer to the return of NHL action, as the Jackets will take the ice today at 2:00 for their first team practice since the start of the Olympic break. As the team gets ready, I thought we should get ready, too, and take a look at how the final 24 games shake out. Let's look at the Jackets' remaining schedule as it might apply to them making a run at the playoffs:
- The Jackets have an even split the rest of the way, with 12 home games and 12 road games.
- This handy table breaks down the strength of schedule remaining for each team in the league. The Jackets fall in the middle of their division in terms of remaining strength of schedule. Of note, the Flyers and Capitals have tougher remaining schedules (the two toughest in the East, actually), whereas the Rangers, Hurricanes, and Devils have easier schedules the rest of the way. The Devils actually have the second-easier remaining schedule in the league by this metric.
- No more games outside of the Eastern or Central time zones, thus meaning less jet lag and travel stress. The latest start time the rest of the way is an 8:30 PM EST start in Dallas on March 10.
- Eight more games against the Metro, with an even split of four at home and four on the road. They get the Hurricanes, Rangers, Penguins, and Islanders at home, and travel to the Devils, Islanders, Hurricanes, and Flyers.
- The Jackets' road schedule against the West is one of the easier ones--in terms of travel--compared to some of their Metro counterparts. The Hurricanes start the post-break schedule with the California swing the Jackets just completed, for example. The Rangers have trips to Colorado as well as the full Western Canada swing through Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver. Conversely, the Flyers and Devils have the easiest travel schedule, with one and zero games (respectively) outside of the Eastern time zone the rest of the way.
- The Jackets' toughest stretch, in my opinion, happens very quickly: between March 6 and March 15, they play six games, four of which are on the road. They go to Chicago, Nashville (their own house of horrors), and Dallas, are home for a big game against Detroit, face San Jose at home, and then go to Minnesota.
- Unlike last season, where Columbus finished with six of seven on the road, a final push includes seven of ten games at home (before finishing with two on the road). A lot of the toughest teams remaining come to Nationwide, which is a big boost.
- If the Jackets need to win their final game again this year, it's certainly nice to see Florida as the last team on the schedule. A team that will have been long-since eliminated from any post-season contention playing their final game of the season? Yes, please.
No matter how all of this plays out, the schedule is tough for everyone in terms of being packed with games over the last six weeks or so. The Jackets find themselves right in the middle of the pack in terms of difficulty, and while they have some tough hurdles to clear, they catch some breaks in there, too.
Now, they have to go out and win those games!