Breaking Down The Long Road - Part 1
No matter how you look at the season (It's only been 9 games! OR It's already been 9 games!), the Jackets will have more than a few challenges over the next several months as they attempt to fight back into the Western Conference playoff picture.
With that said, perhaps the easier way to look at things is to take a page out of Coach Arniel's book from last season (and to a lesser extent a book used by Ken Hitchcock before him) - stop getting focused on the games all the way into April, and look at what's sitting right in front of you.
The Next 10:
While many have pointed out that the sequence of games starting tonight and through the weekend is a tough one, there is a difference between "tough" and impossible, as the team proved in their efforts against Detroit on Tuesday. Let's take a look at these, and I'll give you my best guesstimates on what the team might be able to do.
10/27 @ BUF
While the Sabres are a difficult opponent, the Jackets have historically had a pretty solid matchup with them - particularly in Buffalo. With talk that Ryan Miller is getting the night off, and the club stumbling in their home and home vs. Tampa Bay, the Jackets have an opportunity to step in and grab a Win.
10/29 @ CHI
Always a tough opponent, the Jackets struggled badly against the Hawks last season, but the Hawks have had some consistency problems so far this season, and Corey Crawford has not inspired absolute confidence. Still, they've been able to rely on their high powered attack to put up 4-5 goals a game, and that's an area I'm not sure Columbus can compete in as easily. A strong chance of a Loss, but a possibility of OT/SO
10/30 vs ANA
The Ducks started out red hot in Europe, but all the travel since has quenched their fires considerably - they've only won one game in North America.Like the Jackets, they'll play tonight and Saturday before flying into Nationwide - both teams will have tired legs. It's up to the Jackets to use home ice and last change to their advantage - this one feels like very Winnable game. It's also of note for being game #9 for Ryan Johansen. Expect him to be motivated.
11/3 vs. TOR
Another case of a hot start going sour, the Leafs have been without starting netminder James Reimer for almost a week, and his potential return to the lineup today was put on hold. As a starter, Jonas Gustavsson has been truly scary...to his own club - going 1-2 with a 4.66 GAA in three tries. If Reimer is not back on the ice by Thursday, the Leafs are likely to be in a bad way - and the Jackets will be on fresh legs, while the Leafs will be coming in off playing the Devils the previous night. Intensely Winnable.
11/5 @ PHI
This game will have a great deal of electricity if Jeff Carter is back in the lineup (likely), but loses a bit of the cachet if he's still recovering from his foot injury. With the Flyers defense suffering badly from the lack of Chris Pronger, there's a pretty good opportunity for the Jackets to take advantage of the temporary lack of cohesion, and the team has given a good showing against the Flyers in their last several meetings. On the other hand, Peter Laviolette didn't get a Stanley Cup ring for being unable to deal with adversity. Expect a tough matchup either way. TOSSUP, leaning towards LOSS should Carter be out of the lineup.
11/10 vs CHI
Welcoming the Hawks to Nationwide for the first time this season, this would also fit the (potential) time fame for Mark Dekanich to get back into the lineup and to possibly see the return of Radek Martinek if his concussion symptoms have subsided, meaning it might be the first game where we actually see the roster Scott Howson intended for this season. With control of last change and a better idea of how the Jackets match up against the Hawks speed, there's a stronger chance of a Win here than their earlier matchup.
11/12 vs. WPG
Welcome back to Claude Noel and the former Atlanta Thrashers. Both sides owe the other a bad turn after the injuries and fisticuffs that marked their preseason meetings, but victories have been few and far between for the Jets so far this year, and the Jackets have had Ondrej Pavelic's number pretty consistently since he took over the starting job. Again, a Win seems likely.
11/15 vs MIN
Why, yes, this will be the first regular season meeting of Cal Clutterbuck and James Wisniewski. I'm sure they'll have a lot to talk about. The Wild have slowed from a hot start, but still have a dangerous attack that the Jackets are all too familiar with. Honestly, this feels like another TOSSUP, but I think the Jackets may have the edge with home ice.
11/17 @ BOS
The Jackets ship up to Boston to see the reigning champions, who have been spending most of the past month shaking off their Stanley Cup Hangover. This is a team the Jackets have matched up with well, and if they're still finding their legs I think we can prove, once again, that this club can hang with the best teams in the Eastern conference. (Which is why we should play there.) WIN
11/19 @ NSH
The much heralded Jacket Backers road trip will attempt to return the favor of Section 303's visit to our home opener, and bring a Jackets victory back with them. With the Predators struggling to score, it's tempting to call this a winnable game, too, but on the other hand it seems like Bridgestone Arena is the Unhappiest Place On Earth for Columbus. We'll call this one a TOSSUP too simply because of the past history.
Even if all the tossups go to losses or OT, there's a pretty strong chance for the Jackets to grab 6 wins in these next 10 games, putting them on much better footing in the standings.
These predictions are worth the electrons they've been written on, but it seems like the first half of November may end being just as good as the first part of October was bad...