The Jackets' schedule was pretty tough over the past couple of weeks. Before the Olympic break ended, I highlighted this past stretch as one of the most important:
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.
How'd they do? Well, they went 3-1-1 over that stretch, with one incomplete against Dallas (though they'll start with the lead when they make the game up in April). All in all, very good.
So, now we get into the schedule of quantity, if not quality. The Jackets have 15 games remaining, and included in those 15 games are FIVE (5!!) sets of back-to-back games, including a brutal stretch of five games in seven days to close out the season thanks to the reschedule of the Dallas game. (Still think they made the right call in canceling the rest of that game, but really, NHL? Really?)
But, while the Jackets have a ton of games in a very small amount of time, they get a break in terms of their strength of schedule. The Jackets' remaining opponents collectively have a sub-.500 winning percentage (note: this does not factor in OT points), including two games against Carolina, the Isles, and a game against Florida. They also get cracks at the Rags and Flyers to help make their case for a Metro playoff spot.
It won't be easy. That said, tonight's opponent has been trending in the wrong direction since the calendar moved to February. The Canes have a 4-10-0 record since the beginning of February, and are basically playing out the string at this point mathematically.
I know you probably get tired of it, but I like to cite random quotes from my brother, who I talk to almost daily about hockey and who happens to live in Raleigh and follow the Canes. He attended Sunday's game against Edmonton, and this was his report:
They have pretty much folded in the tent. Shying away from physical play, over-passing instead of crashing the net... just sad to see. I thought they had a legitimate chance going into the Olympic break. I think they will roll over for any team that shows up and plays with a little edge at this point.
Cue the Jackets!
Given some big games in the standings on Thursday and Friday against Montreal and New York, this is a game the Jackets simply HAVE to win. They've shown that their style--when they play it--is tough for the Canes to match up against, and given the way Carolina has gone off the rails over the past six weeks, it should be ripe for the picking for the Jackets. Columbus has had two days off to rest after their recent stretch of games, and so there's no excuse for not coming out and dominating the Canes from the drop of the puck.
Columbus is 10-2-1 in their last 13 at home; the Canes are falling apart like the Bluesmobile, and are 1-7-0 in their last eight on the road (and the one win was in OT, though against San Jose, amazingly).
In short, the Jackets simply HAVE to win this game. No excuses.
Please note: it's early and I have a full day, so these are VERY projected lineups.
Columbus Blue Jackets
(35-26-6, 76 Points; 3rd division, 7th conference)
|Nick Foligno||Ryan Johansen||Boone Jenner|
|Matt Calvert||Brandon Dubinsky||Nathan Horton|
|R.J. Umberger||Artem Anisimov||Cam Atkinson|
|Derek MacKenzie||Mark Letestu||Corey Tropp|
|Jack Johnson||Dalton Prout|
|Fedor Tyutin||James Wisniewski|
|Nikita Nikitin||David Savard|
(29-30-9, 67 Points; 7th division, 13th conference)
|Jeff Skinner||Eric Staal||Elias Lindholm|
|Nathan Gerbe||Jordan Staal||Alexander Semin|
|Drayson Bowman||Riley Nash||Patrick Dwyer|
|Andrei Loktionov||Manny Malhotra||Radek Dvorak|
|Andrej Sekera||Justin Faulk|
|Ron Hainsey||Brett Bellemore|
|Jay Harrison||Ryan Murphy|
Head to Head Stats
Carolina Columbus 2.47 (20) GPG 2.84 (8) 2.81 (20) GAPG 2.72 (16) 12.6% (29) PP% 18.3% (14) 81.3% (18) PK% 82.0% (16) Jeff Skinner, 26 G leader Ryan Johansen, 26 Eric Staal, 36 A leader James Wisniewski, 33 Eric Staal, 52 Pts leader Ryan Johansen, 50 Eric Staal, 66 PIM leader Brandon Dubinsky, 92 12-16-4 Road/Home 19-11-3 3/16 vs. Edmonton, L 2-1 Last Game 3/15 @ Minnesota, W 2-1 (SO) 3-7-0 Last 10 6-3-1