Four Games in Six Days: The Week Ahead
A pair of back-to-backs await the Blue Jackets this week
We’re past the quarter-mark of the 2017-18 NHL season and the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves sitting pretty with a 15-7-1 record, first place in the Metropolitan Division and a six-game win streak. The club hit a bit of a speed bump a few weeks ago but appears to be humming along after the Thanksgiving break with a playoff spot (and division crown?) in its sights. Aaron Portzline provided a neat bit of trivia in the middle of Ohio State-Michigan madness yesterday:
Since the start of 2016-17:#CBJ pic.twitter.com/GopuPga9OK— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) November 25, 2017
That’s fantastic! Ignore the grumps and Penguins fans who say winning a lot of games doesn’t really matter. Winning games is sort of the point in professional sports, and it’s especially helpful for a franchise that’s lived most of its existence in ignominy. It’s a great time to be a Jackets fan.
Columbus will put its six-game win streak to the test this week, playing a pair of back-to-backs against the Montreal Canadiens, Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals. The team will have its chances to grab some points, but will have to manage fatigue and make the most of its Wednesday and Thursday to maximize the week.
@ Montreal Canadiens - Monday, 7:30 p.m.
9-12-3, 6th in Atlantic
The Blue Jackets draw Montreal first this week, and 24 hours ago looked a great time to do it. After weeks of Carey Price drama and a five-game losing streak, the Habs blanked the Sabres last night behind Price’s 36 saves. Everyone in Montreal’s been on the hot seat lately and we’ll find out if last night was an aberration or the Canadiens have begun to right the ship (it was Buffalo, after all). The Blue Jackets visited the Bell Centre two weeks ago, taking a 2-1 win in overtime thanks to a Zach Werenski overtime winner. They’re eighth in CF%, 30th in PDO and Jonathan Drouin’s 15 points lead the team (with 12 assists). We’ll have more in our preview tomorrow.
vs. Carolina Hurricanes - Tuesday, 7 p.m.
9-8-4, 7th in Metropolitan
The Canes host Nashville on Sunday afternoon to wrap up a four-game homestand before traveling to Columbus for Tuesday night’s game. Carolina, a popular playoff pick in the preseason, has put together a middling season with two straight losses to the Rangers (6-1) and Maple Leafs (5-4). Goaltender Scott Darling was supposed keep the team above water but has struggled so far, going 6-6-4 with a .900 save percentage and 2.71 goals against average (and Cam Ward hasn’t done any better).
Their power play ranks 28th (15.3 percent) and they kill penalties at a 78.4 percent clip, good enough for 21st. Teuvo Teravainen leads the team with eight goals and 21 points to go along with a 58.2 CF%, third among Hurricanes forwards. The pieces are supposed to be there, but head coach Bill Peters has some work to do. It’s not all bad news, though, with an NHL-best 55.8 CF%. Columbus and Carolina have split the first two meetings and the Jackets will look to avenge a 3-1 loss home loss to the Canes on November 10, with one more meeting in December after Tuesday.
vs. Anaheim Ducks - Friday, 7 p.m.
10-9-4, 6th in the Pacific
The stumbling Ducks fell in a shootout to the in-state rival Kings last night, putting them at a ho-hum 4-3-3 over their last 10. You may have seen Kevin Bieksa one-punch Andy Andreoff last night, but past that, they haven’t been much to write home about. They’re better on the road and will play at Chicago (Monday) and St. Louis (Wednesday) before their game in Columbus on Friday night. They’re last in the league in CF% (45.5), Fenwick (45.3) and 27th in goals. Injuries haven’t been on their side this season, but 24-year-old Rickard Rakell has been a bright spot with eight goals and 10 points. With a trip to Washington the next day, a rested Columbus team will need to jump on the visitors and earn a win.
@ Washington Capitals - Saturday, 7 p.m.
14-10-1, 4th in Metropolitan
The week ends with a short trip to the nation’s capital to face the Capitals. This should be one of the league’s premier games and the Capitals play well at home. Washington earned their third straight win with a 4-2 victory over Toronto last night and will rest until Thursday, when they host the Kings ahead of their date with Columbus. Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick against the Leafs and leads the NHL with 18 goals, which sounds about right. Braden Holtby hasn’t been his usual otherworldy self, but he’s sporting a .921 save percentage, so he’s been good. It’s the Caps. You know what you’re getting, and they’ll be ready for the boys in blue come Saturday.
Make sure you check out William Chase’s excellent “Lots to Be Thankful About” piece from yesterday, which provides a comprehensive look at the current state of the Blue Jackets. Everything’s coming up Columbus right now, but a bad week could definitely cost them in this ultra-tight division.