The Uphill Climb
After last night's win, the Blue Jackets are building up quite a hot streak - so how much will it take to get them back into the Metropolitan Division hunt?
With the overtime win over the Capitals, the Jackets have now followed their epic November collapse with a five game win streak. Now seven points back of the 3rd place spot in the Metro (and, for that matter, the second Wild Card berth), the team has the opportunity to gain some ground with six of their next seven games at home. Let's take a look at this "series", to see what they'll be up against.
Penguins @ Jackets
Jackets @ Red Wings
Capitals @ Jackets
Blackhawks @ Jackets
Predators @ Jackets
Bruins @ Jackets
Wild @ Jackets
Of those seven opponents, six are currently in playoff position. The one exception, Minnesota, sit four points back of a wild card spot with three games in hand on the WC2 position in the West. The only team looking particularly vulnerable is Boston, who are 4-5-1 in their last ten games.
If the team can take a "series win" out of that, it's a major statement as they round out 2014, and would be a clear sign that the team is bouncing back as they finally become healthy.
Following that, the next big "landmark" on the schedule will be the All Star Weekend break. The team will kick off January with a week long 4 game road trip, return home for three, then step back out for their last three games for the break:
Jackets @ Coyotes
Jackets @ Avalanche
Jackets @ Stars
Jackets @ Maple Leafs
Islanders @ Jackets
Canadiens @ Jackets
Rangers @ Jackets
Jackets @ Bruins
Jackets @ Wild
Jackets @ Jets
Simply looking at travel times, that road trip leading up to the ASG is BRUTAL. Hope they're getting some frequent flyer miles for it.
It's not really fair to call this slate an "easier" group of games, but they will start the year against three of the bottom four Western conference teams (based on the current standings), and a few divisional games, which might provide opportunities to leapfrog the Flyers or Devils if things break right.
If this team is above the bar by the 22nd of January, or even within, say, 4 points of a divisional playoff spot, I think there's real reason to hope, particularly with guys like Mark Letestu and Fedor Tyutin likely to return to the lineup around that time.
Their chances probably aren't that good, on paper, but then again, who expected this team to suddenly start rattling off a winning streak?
Buckle up - we'll have some interesting times ahead.