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Game Preview #45 - Level Into The Break

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The Jackets may not be playoff contenders right now, but they can get back to .500 at the All Star Break with a win tonight in the 'Peg.

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Blue Jackets at Winnipeg Jets

January 21st, 2015 - 9:00pm EST
MTS Centre - Winnipeg, Manitoba
Radio - WBNS 97.1 - TV - Fox Sports Ohio
Opponent's Blog: Arctic Ice Hockey

The Jackets, with a win, could go into the All Star Break at .500, at 21-21-3. Considering that, just six games ago, they were over .500, this may not sound like much. But, considering that they were once 6-15-2, I think that would be pretty damn swell. Consider this: the Jackets have had three losing streaks that amassed to 0-17-2.  That's insane, frankly. .500 teams are usually just that: win some, lose some, win some, lose some. These Jackets have endured three slumps totaling 19 losses, 17 of which came in regulation. Again, insane.

What that also means is that they've had a collective run outside of that of 20-4-1, including a 12-2-1 stretch between their two most recent losing streaks. In short, the Jackets--with a big assist to injuries--have completely rewritten the definition of the word "streaky". And, to build on that, a win tonight gets them to .500 and would give them a three-game winning streak, and would give them a 15-6-1 record since December 1st.

And all of that, frankly, would be amazing, considering how bleak things looked in November. The team was 21-20-4 last season through 45 games, and that 45th game was also a win in...

Winnipeg. Woah.

That team, from that point on, went 22-12-3 to finish 43-32-7, which was good enough to finish 7th in the East with 93 points. 93 points may not be good enough to get in this season, as the top half of the East seems much stronger this year through half of the season, but to write Columbus off completely, when we've seen what they're capable of? I just can't do it. I know that I've been harping on "by the All Star Break, we'll know" with this team. I still am about 99% sure that they aren't making the playoffs, because they just have too much ground to make up. But, that 1%? It's not going away, just yet. Consider this scenario: if Columbus wins tonight and both Boston (@Colorado) and Ottawa (vs. Toronto) lose in regulation, the Jackets would sit in 11th place, just 11 points out, with 37 games to play (including games in hand on everyone in front of them). If Ottawa beats Toronto in regulation, 12th place, but just two points behind BOTH Ottawa and Toronto.

It's not an easy path, or even a likely path. But it's still a path.

Of course, none of that prognostication and manipulation means anything if the Jackets go out and get beat tonight, and that's a very real possibility. The Jets have won five out of six (5-0-1) and have ripped off a 13-5-4 run of their own to climb into the playoff picture in the West. The rise of Michael Hutchinson has been a god-send, as the 24-year-old has supplanted Ondrej Pavelic as the top goalie for the club, and has done nothing but amaze, posting a 13-4-2 record with a 2.00 gaa and .932 save percentage in his 20 games (18 starts) this season. He'll be in the discussion for the Calder Trophy, and his rise (and the team's corresponding resurgence) is not dissimilar to our own experience with a young Steve Mason.

The last time these two teams played, the Jackets were in the middle of one of their losing streaks, and the Jets jumped out early, scoring in literally the first 10 seconds of the game. The Jackets hung on to tie it in the first, but two second period goals 31 seconds apart all but sealed it. It was one of those games where the bad breaks killed Columbus, as the even strength stats were pretty even.

With Columbus's play over the last three games, we've seen them tighten up quite a bit, but we've also seen against New York that the occasional lapse still can kill. The Jackets did better to avoid those moments in their previous two wins, and they also--more importantly--closed things out once they earned third period leads. If they can keep that mentality going, I like their chances tonight to head into the break all even and riding a three game winning streak.

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
(20-21-3, 43 Points; 6th division, 13th conference)

Nick Foligno Ryan Johansen Jeremy Morin
Scott Hartnell Brandon Dubinsky Josh Anderson
Matt Calvert Alexander Wennberg Cam Atkinson
Corey Tropp Mark Letestu Jack Skille
Jack Johnson David Savard
Kevin Connauton James Wisniewski
Fedor Tyutin Dalton Prout
Sergei Bobrovsky
Curtis McElhinney

Winnipeg Jets
(25-14-8, 58 Points; 4th Division, 5th Conference)

Andrew Ladd Bryan Little Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane Mark Scheifele Michael Frolik
Chris Thorburn Adam Lowry Matt Halischuk
T.J. Galiardi Jim Slater Anthony Peluso
Ben Chiarot Dustin Byfuglien
Tobias Enstrom Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart Jay Harrison
Michael Hutchinson
Ondrej Pavelec

Season Series

11/25/14 - Winnipeg 4 at Columbus 2
01/21/15 - Columbus at Winnipeg

Head to Head Stats

Winnipeg Columbus
2.70 (17) GPG 2.48 (24)
2.40 (7) GAPG 3.11 (26)
17.5% (19) PP% 25.0% (3)
83.4% (9) PK% 79.1% (22)
Bryan Little, 18 G leader Nick Foligno, 18
Blake Wheeler, 23 A leader Ryan Johansen, 26
Andrew Ladd, 39 Pts leader Ryan Johansen, 43
Dustin Byfuglien, 83 PIM leader Jared Boll, 63
11-9-3 Home/Road 11-9-1
6-3-1 Last 10 5-5-0
1/18 vs. Arizona, W 4-3 (SO) Last Game 1/19 @ Minnesota, W 3-1