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The Final Sprint: Predictions and Expectations for the Final 34 Games

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The Blue Jackets cooled off, but are still in good shape. What to expect going forward.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets, fresh off of All Star weekend festivities that saw the Metropolitan Division take home the champions title, resume play Tuesday night against the New York Rangers.

Starting on Tuesday night, the Blue Jackets will play 34 games in 69 days (including the bye week). It is a tough stretch ahead, but the team has put themselves in a good spot going forward, banking 68 points by the All Star break. So, what would we like to see from the Blue Jackets going forward?

Secure one of the divisional spots in the playoffs

This, for me, is the biggest goal for the rest of the season. Columbus, each of the other two times they have made the playoffs, has made it as a wild card team on the back of a hot streak to end the regular season. This season, however, the Blue Jackets have given themselves every favorable advantage possible.

The team currently sits second in the Metropolitan division, 4 points back of the league leading Washington Capitals. They have 5 points and a game in hand on the first wild card team, the New York Rangers. This is a sufficient cushion, despite the team’s lackluster play of late.

Securing a divisional spot would show that team played well for the entirety of the season, and were not just a flash in the pan because of the winning streak. It would also mark the best finish the team has ever had in the regular season.

This, I believe, is the number one goal for the rest of the season.

Cam Atkinson hits 70 points

Cam Atkinson has, arguably, been the best player on the Columbus Blue Jackets since Coach Tortorella arrived in Columbus last season. Despite the disappointing season last year, Atkinson set a career high with 53 points, registering 27 goals and 26 assists. This season, Cam has continued his torrid scoring pace, registering 24-22-46 in 48 games.

Cam hitting 70 points would obviously be a career high for the first time All Star. IT is possible, though, that Cam gets there. He’s been scoring at a near point per game pace this season. He would need 24 points in the final 34 games, which is doable given how well he’s performed this season.

Cam has been a revelation under Torts, developing into a legitimate superstar, and finding his game in all 3 phases. Hopefully he can keep up his scoring pace the rest of the season.

Zach Werenski finishes in the top 3 of Calder voting

It is pretty clear that the Calder Trophy will be won by one of Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine, who are both having fantastic seasons.

However.

Zach Werenski is having an excellent season in his own right. He has registered 8-21-29 in 48 games played this season, already breaking the franchise record for points by a rookie defenseman. Werenski has completely transformed the power play, stepped in and played immediate first line minutes this season. He has performed far better than anyone could have ever expected.

Werenski has been having an exceptional season, playing 21+ minutes a night on one of the better teams in the league. He has been one of the most valuable rookies in the league, and deserves to be recognized as such.

The Jackets must upgrade at the backup goaltender position

“What? We have Bob!”

Yes, Sergei Bobrovsky is having an excellent season. That cannot be denied. But his confidence appears to be shaken right now, given how poorly he played against the Islanders and the Predators last week. Hopefully the return of David Savard (who, while not 100%, is still better than Dalton Prout and Scott Harrington) as well as Markus Nutivaara can help Bob round back into form.

That being said, as noted above, the Blue Jackets play 34 games in the next 69 days. It is simply not feasible for Bob to play that often and still have anything in the tank for the playoffs.

I wrote about options several weeks ago, so I won’t go into great detail. But if Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg cannot find their game at the NHL level, it becomes imperative that the Jackets look for help at the deadline.

Alex Wennberg hits 70 points

This might be tougher to accomplish, but hear me out.

Alexander Wennberg right now has registered 8-32-40 thus far this season, matching his point total for all of last year. Wennberg will likely not turn into a goal scoring machine, but he is a master of making the right pass and at setting up his linemates to take advantage.

Wennberg would have to increase his scoring pace to hit 70 points this year, needing 30 points in 34 games, but one hot streak could send him on his way.

The Blue Jackets win their first ever playoff series

This is the crown jewel of the season. After leading the league at various points thus far, going toe to toe with the best teams in the Metropolitan division, and establishing themselves as worthy of their opponents’ respect on a nightly basis, the Blue Jackets have seen another goal for the season come more sharply into focus.

Win a playoff series.

As we know, that’s never been done before. The Blue Jackets have just two wins in the playoffs, both in an effort against the Penguins in 2014. This season could produce different results.

Sure, the Blue Jackets could see the Penguins again. In fact, if the Jackets do not win the President’s Trophy, they probably will, given how the NHL standings are shaking out. But this Columbus team is younger, faster, and could skate with the Penguins in a seven game series.

The fans have bought in. Nationwide Arena is full on an almost nightly basis. So long starved for a winning franchise, hockey fans in Columbus are against putting their faith in this young team. It is up to the Blue Jackets to deliver.

What do you think will happen or expect to see by the end of the season? Let us know in the comments below!