Like many people, I see the news of December 2016, the many significant heroes and visionaries we have lost through this year, and with the exception of the Blue Jackets’ roaring success in the 2016 half of the 2016-2017 season, I just want this year to be over already.
So let’s look ahead, shall we?
The Blue Jackets will have a fairly aggressive schedule in the first 20 games of 2017, stretching across January and into February, but there’s some good news - just over half of the contests will be at home in Nationwide as we sprint to the All-Star Break and the trade deadline on February 28th.
The bad news is that many of the upcoming games will be facing teams currently in playoff position, and a heaping helping of divisional opponents, meaning that many of these games carry significant weight.
So what might we expect? Let’s take a look at things in five game chunks, based on each team’s current goal differential and record:
Jan 3 vs. EDM (+6 15-12-5)
Anyone else surprised to see the Oilers in a wildcard spot? With something like a passable defense and the boost of their new barn, Edmonton has put up a solid campaign to date. The Jackets had their number before, and coming out of the holiday break you have to think that Torts will have the club ready to spit fire when they hit the ice.
Jan 5 @ WSH (+15 18-7-3)
The Caps have been a tough out this year and the Jackets have had their hands full so far, even if they’re 2-0 against Washington this season. As you can see by their record, the Capitals don’t lose often, and they’ll want to pay back some of their earlier suffering. I have a feeling this one may need some bonus hockey too, but that Ovechkin & Co will get a little back.
Prediction: OT / SO Loss
Jan 7 vs. NYR (+34 - 20-10-1)
The Rags are the top of the division, top of the conference, and class of the league. The Jackets have had their number the last few meetings, though, and especially if the Washington game is a loss, I suspect the Jackets are going to come out swinging.
Jan 8 vs. PHI (+8 - 19-10-3)
The Flyers and Jackets have quietly become the two hottest teams in the NHL, and are currently dancing around each other for the top wild card or #3 Metro playoff spot almost constantly this month. What happens when the immovable object meets the irresistible force?
Probably a shootout.
Prediction: SO Loss
Jan 10 @ CAR (-5 12-11-6)
The Hurricanes are, in a word, bad. Struggling to stay ahead of the Islanders and Sabres for the bottom of the Eastern conference, not drawing fans at home, and not keeping pucks out of their own net, in the past this would be TRAP GAME in big red angry letters.
But good teams beat bad teams, and the Blue Jackets have been doing just that.
That would put the team at 3-0-2, or possibly 3-1-1 depending on how things break. Not a bad start to the year. So what would be coming up next?
Jan 13 @ TBL (+3 15-13-2)
The Lightning have struggled against Columbus all year, and I suspect after back to back five goal losses they’re going to be VERY motivated to put a hurt on the CBJ.
Jan 14 @ FLA (-11 13-13-4)
After an incredible performance last season, the wheels have come off in Florida, and even Dale Tallon coming down from his office to take a direct hand may not be enough to save them. I have a hard time seeing the Panthers getting out of this one with anything other than a boot in the ass.
Jan 17 vs. CAR
I repeat my earlier statement about Good vs. Bad teams. Particularly when the good team is the host.
Jan 19 vs OTT (-9 16-11-3)
Ottawa is an interesting case. Not doing so great at keeping pucks out of their own net but finding ways to win, the Senators may well drag themselves into the postseason by the bloody stumps of their fingernails. How they fare after? Well, that’s going to be interesting. Still, I think it’s likely they’ll be a tough match up, especially since this will be the first meeting between the clubs this season.
Jan 21 vs CAR
Even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally.
5-3-2 after 10 games is nothing to sneeze at, and would keep pretty close to the blistering pace the Jackets have set for themselves so far this year.
Jan 22 @ OTT
Home ice or not, with the Jackets getting the measure of the Senators I suspect they’ll know what is needed to beat them on the second go-round.
Jan 24 @ NYI (-12 11-12-5)
The Islanders are the basement of the Metro, and there’s no reason to think the new year will make a change. The Jackets may not leave a smoking crater where Jaroslav Halak used to be again, but...good teams have to beat bad teams.
Jan 26 @ NSH (+3 13-11-4)
Ahhh, Darth Vader. I thought I smelled your foul stench when I came on board. So many times the Predators are the team who ruin our fun, and wins in Nashville are still difficult to find for the Blue Jackets. I hate to say it, but it seems quite likely we’ll hear some sour notes in music city.
Jan 31 @ NYR (+34 - 20-10-1)
Facing the Rangers in their barn means a good chance the tables could be turned. But I have a gut feeling this one goes to OT.
Prediction: OT/SO loss
Feb 3 @ PIT (+21, 20-7-3)
The Jackets meet the Penguins for the first time this season on December 22nd here at Nationwide, and this will be the first trip to the ‘Burgh for the campaign. With Sidney Crosby and Co hitting on all cylinders, I have a bad feeling we’re not leaving this one happy.
So at the end of the third block we’re 7-5-3. Still respectable, but the fight is clearly a bit uphill, and the final block of games isn’t much nicer.
Feb 4 vs NJD (-13 12-10-6)
The Devils have been a schizophrenic team this season, sometimes looking like world beaters, other times looking like a midget team on stilts. My gut feeling is the Jackets will have some fire after losing to the Pens, and even with it being the second night of a back to back, they’ll do some damage in front of what should be a pretty healthy home crowd.
Feb 7 @ DET (-10 13-13-4)
The Jackets have been proving they know how to deal with the boys in the JLA, but the Red Wings can still be a dangerous opponent. I suspect they’ll repay the last meeting in kind.
Feb 9 vs VAN (-21 12-16-2)
The Canucks are drowning. Let’s hand them some more weights.
Feb 11 vs DET
The Jackets should be able to rise up for a good Saturday night crowd.
Feb 13 vs NYR
Something about this game makes me think the Jackets will not be able to pull points from this one. A Monday night game vs a top divisional opponent who want to get some payback? Probably a smaller crowd? Everyone thinking about Valentine’s Day?
Not looking good.
So, if this prediction comes true, the Jackets would start 2017 with a 10-7-3 record. On paper it’s not just do-able, it might even be likely, and would certainly keep them in playoff position before charging into the final months of the season.
Wouldn’t that be nice...?