Blue Jackets might make playoffs, but work remains to attract fans

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With a 37-30-6 record, this is shaping up to be one of the best seasons in the history of the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s a pretty sad statement, even after acknowledging the fact that the franchise only debuted in 2000-01.

Maybe that’s why fan interest in the Blue Jackets remains an area that’s lacking, even as the on-ice product seems to be moving in the right direction. Despite bolstering the number of season ticket holders they have compared to the shortened campaign, the Blue Jackets’ average home attendance has actually dropped this season and ranks 29th in the league at 13,959, per ESPN.com.

Only the Phoenix Coyotes have done worse and both teams are well behind the Dallas Stars, which rank 28th with an average of 14,477 fans. TV viewership for the Blue Jackets is similarly down and ranks 29th in the NHL.

“We’ve still got work to do with some folks, and we’ve not shied away from that,” Blue Jackets’ president of hockey operations John Davidson told the Columbus Dispatch. “People have been disappointed by their hockey team here through the years, and so we have a lot to prove to those people.”

This isn’t an issue the Blue Jackets can hope to completely solve by the summer, but they can certainly take some important steps in the right direction.

They are in the thick of the battle for an Eastern Conference Wild Card spot and if they get to the first round, that might spark renewed interest and excitement in the franchise. That would be especially true if they manage to at least make things interesting in the first round after they got swept in their only postseason series to date.

That’s the underlining theme as they prepare for tonight’s game against Carolina. They aren’t just fighting for a postseason spot. They are competing to win over a market that wants to start seeing results.

Looks like Laine, Jets are heating up

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Big breaks can be really nice for NHL teams, but sometimes you wonder if the timing is all wrong. It will be interesting to see if the Winnipeg Jets (and Patrik Laine) feel that way about their upcoming breather.

The Jets had really been cooking after shaking off a tough start from Steve Mason (the Jets dropped their first two games in ugly fashion). By edging the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Friday, the Jets have now won four of their last five contests.

As you can see from the video above, Laine played a significant role in that win, showing that he might have some potential from “Alex Ovechkin‘s office” on Winnipeg’s power play. Laine doubled his 2017-18 goals total from two to four with that effort, pushing him to six points in seven games.

Laine was unleashing that lethal shot with aplomb last night, too, firing eight shots on goal.

(Last night’s edition of The Buzzer notes that it was a milestone night for Paul Maurice and Blake Wheeler, who collected his 200th assist in sending the puck to Laine’s wheelhouse.)

The Jets have high hopes for 2017-18, and Laine’s a big part of that excitement, so it was nice to see him unleashed.

If it’s a matter of rhythm, then this break is a bummer. Their next game doesn’t take place until Thursday, making for almost a week off, just when they were really sizzling. It’s a tough haul for the next while, so maybe they’ll take advantage of the break (or get rusty?):

Thu, Oct 26 @ Pittsburgh
Fri, Oct 27 @ Columbus
Sun, Oct 29 vs Pittsburgh
Tue, Oct 31 @ Minnesota

November isn’t a breezy month for the Jets, either, so Winnipeg has to hope that they can carry over some of this momentum.

For more Jets-related fun, check out this interesting NHL.com piece about how Connor Hellebuyck is changing things up.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Look at what Rangers are up against right now

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You have to really squint to find bright sides to look on if you’re the New York Rangers.

The Rangers are currently on a five-game losing streak and have one shabby win to show for their first eight games of 2017-18, and they’ll shortly face a challenge in the Nashville Predators, who are riding a five-game point streak (4-0-1 after losing their first two games).

With six of those eight games coming at home, the Rangers are really squandering opportunities in the malicious Metro. About the only positive things you can say boil down to: a) scrapping two “loser points” out of the past two games and b) the team at least saying the right things, as Rick Nash notes according to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks.

“The bad teams I’ve been on, guys get away from the game plan, they don’t give the effort and there’s finger-pointing, whether in the room between guys; from the coach; or in the media. That’s what happens when things get away from you as a team.

“None of that is happening here,” Nash said. “We’re together and we’re focusing on taking this one step at a time.”

They might be wise not to look at the divisional standings. Just consider some of the teams they’re up against:

Devils (12 points in 8 games): New Jersey currently has a perfect road record and a fleet of young legs, something the transitional Rangers must envy. Even if they’re likely to slip (being blanked by the Sharks could be an early sign of regression), the Devils figure to be a tougher out this season.

Penguins (11 points in 8 games): Not much needs to be said, though it’s worth noting that they’ve won three in a row.

Blue Jackets (10 points in 7 games): All signs point to former Rangers coach John Tortorella’s group being very much the threat that once surprised us.

Capitals (9 points in 8 games): Finding ways to win, and scrappy in particular on the road so far (3-1-1 away record).

Flyers (8 points in 7 games): Might be better than their record indicates, at least judging by their +9 goal differential. Philly has the potential to at least be a pesky “bubble” team.

Hurricanes (7 points in 5 games): Light early schedule might keep them under the radar, for now.

Islanders (7 points in 7 games): Mixed results might not help the Islanders retain John Tavares, but a competent Isles team would only make it tougher for the Rangers.

Yeesh, kind of discouraging, right?

The Rangers currently sit at four points in eight games played, and like this post argues, they really need to wake up soon. They’ve already played six home vs. two road contests, and they face a similar saturation of MSG going forward.

Counting today’s game hosting the rising Predators, the Rangers play the next three in a row at home. After that, they play three of four on the road, but then enjoy a three-game homestand.

So, by Nov. 11, they’ll have played 13 games at home and just five on the road.

One gets the sense that the seat is getting hotter for Alain Vigneault by the day. Fair or not, it might feel like it’s boiling if the Rangers are still a wreck in mid-November.

(If he still has a seat at the table, at all.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Devils fans help singer who forgot words to national anthem (Video)

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The biggest save of the night at Prudential Center on Friday didn’t come from either goaltender, but rather New Jersey Devils fans in attendance for their game against the San Jose Sharks.

Lauralie Mufute began singing the national anthem but midway through forgot the words. That’s when the crowd of 14,381 picked up where the 14-year-old left off and finished the song.

A great job by the crowd in what certainly was a terrifying moment for the young performer.

These flaps happen, as we’ve seen many times before in different situations. It’s always good to know the crowd can act as backup singers in times of need.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin’s blast lifts Capitals in OT, Sheary speeds by Panthers

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Player of the night: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin has already reached double digits in goals scored in this new campaign. The Capitals’ star recorded his 10th goal of the season on Friday and it counted as the overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Capitals trailed late in the third period, but T.J. Oshie scored the tying goal and Ovechkin won it on a power play less than two minutes into the extra period, as he deployed that famous one-timer slap shot from his off-wing. This time, Petr Mrazek was victimized by the wicked slapper.

Ovechkin is now only two goals behind the entire Montreal Canadiens team — in the same amount of games.

Highlight of the night:

What a weapon speed is in today’s National Hockey League. Conor Sheary illustrated that once again, as he saw a little bit of room down the left side and flew around Alex Petrovic before making a move to the backhand on James Reimer. That goal counted as the eventual winner, as the Penguins defeated the Panthers 4-3. Earlier in the third period, Sheary and Roberto Luongo came together near the Florida net, causing Luongo’s right hand to get caught against the post, injuring the Panthers’ netminder.

Factoid of the night:

It was a milestone night in Winnipeg for Blake Wheeler and coach Paul Maurice.

Scores:

Vancouver 4, Buffalo 2

San Jose 3, New Jersey 0

Washington 4, Detroit 3 (OT)

Pittsburgh 4, Florida 3

Winnipeg 4, Minnesota 3

Anaheim 6, Montreal 2

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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