The Columbus Blue Jackets have been baffling for some time now, and they might have pushed John Tortorella to the edge recently, making him wonder if some of the team’s struggling players are daydreaming about the off-season.
One could almost picture Seth Jones responding with: “Don’t book any reservations just yet.”
The 23-year-old beefed up what’s already a career-best season with two goals on Friday as the Blue Jackets did what they had to do in edging the Detroit Red Wings 3-2. With that, the Blue Jackets have won four games in a row, giving themselves a real shot at either maintaining a wild card spot or advancing in the Metro if others stumble:
Metro top three:
Penguins: 82 points in 68 games, 37 ROW
Capitals: 81 points, 67 GP, 34 ROW
Flyers: 79 points, 68 GP, 32 ROW
Blue Jackets, first wild card: 77 points, 69 GP, 30 ROW
Devils, second WC: 76 points, 68 GP, 30 ROW
Panthers, biggest WC threat: 73 points, 65 GP, 31 ROW
The Blue Jackets might feel a little anxious in seeing the Panthers with so many games in hand, but Columbus does get to impact its “own destiny” to some extent. They play one more game against the Flyers (March 15), Panthers (March 22), and Penguins (April 5). (Odd coincidence: all three of those games fall on Thursdays.) They don’t face the Devils or Capitals again during the 2017-18 regular season, however.
The possibility of another team or teams fading is one plus, regardless. The Devils, in particular, risk a slide for at least the near future:
Next six games for Devils
Sat, Mar 10 @ Nashville
Wed, Mar 14 @ Vegas
Sat, Mar 17 @ Los Angeles
Sun, Mar 18 @ Anaheim
Tue, Mar 20 @ San Jose
Fri, Mar 23 @ Pittsburgh
(The Devils’ schedule then closes out with six of eight games in Newark, though it must be noted that, on paper, even that closing stretch is fairly challenging opponents-wise.)
Between the Devils’ tough schedule and the Flyers’ up-and-down pattern this season, the Blue Jackets might just be able to fight their way into the playoffs by surviving a battle of attrition.
That’s not an elegant way to make the postseason, however, so the good news is that Columbus has some positive elements to build on.
For one thing, their top two defensemen are performing in ways that deliver on their hype. With tonight’s two goals, Seth Jones now has a career-high for goals (13) while also beefing up what was already a new career-high for points (46). With a whopping 231 shots on goal, Jones is firing the puck like never before; only Brent Burns has more SOG than Jones among NHL defensemen. Jones now has three goals and two assists for five points in his past two games.
Zach Werenski wasn’t able to score in Friday’s win against Detroit, but he’s been showing why Columbus boasts one of the NHL’s most fearsome one-two scoring punches on the blueline. Before tonight, the 20-year-old generated three goals and three assists for six points in five games. He’s at 14 goals on the season, giving the Blue Jackets a rare duo of defensemen with well over 10+ goals apiece.
Sergei Bobrovsky continues to be one of the NHL’s most reliable goalies, yet losing him for a spell actually managed to shine a light on an advantage Columbus holds over some of their bubble competitors.
While this hasn’t been a great season overall for the backup, Joonas Korpisalo came through with two straight wins while “Bob” was sidelined. That could serve as a significant confidence-booster for a goalie the Blue Jackets fought to keep from Vegas in the expansion draft.
In summary, the Blue Jackets are getting contributions from a number of sources, which is a heartening sign, as Columbus needs to leverage its advantages if it wants to win what could be tight races for the East’s final playoff spots.
This four-game winning streak greatly improved their odds of crossing that finish line with their heads held high.