I promised a post-break outlook for our boys, and here it is.
In the first game after the All-Star break, the Blue Jackets netted two points over the Red Wings. I’d normally be a bit upset that we gave another Western team a point, but being the Wings, it doesn’t really matter. They could take the rest of the year off and still make the playoffs.
The Blue Jackets now sit with 51 points—ninth place in the Western Conference standings. Seventh and eighth place Minnesota and Edmonton also have 51 points, as does 10th place Vancouver. On top of that, fifth and sixth place Phoenix and Anaheim sit at 53.
That’s a pretty tight pack. Any team that puts together a solid run in the next couple of weeks will have a definite advantage. Every game is now a must-win. For the Jackets, things could not be looking better. I can’t believe I just said that.
Of the next eight games, seven will be played at home, and only two of those games will feature a team currently “in” the playoffs (San Jose and Detroit). This could very well be the stretch that will separate the Blue Jackets from the pack, and finally solidify them a postseason slot.
If Columbus can manage a 6-2 run during this time, they’ll finish with 63 points and 27 games to go. If they can accomplish this, they’ll only need about a 13-9-5 finish. That will get them 94 points and should be enough for a playoff spot.
Why do I think the Jackets can do this? It’s simple. We are witnessing the best season in franchise history. Rick Nash is on pace for a career-high 82 points and probably significantly more than that if he continues his current production pace.
Additionally, we are finally seeing some strong production from the blue line. Last season the Jackets had one defenseman with more than 20 points, Ron Hainsey, who finished with 32. This year, three are on pace for 20-plus points. Kris Russell is on pace for a career-high 25, while Fedor Tyutin and Mike Commodore are each on pace for a 30-plus point season.
Throw in rookie Jake Voracek, who is on a pace for a 40-point rookie campaign, phenom Steve Mason, and the brilliance of Ken Hitchcock, and this starts to really look like a playoff team.
I can’t think of a brighter time to be a Blue Jacket fan. Everything seems to be coming together. The team is finally buying into the Hitchcock system, six players are on pace to have career highs in goals, assists, or points, and the schedule could not favor the Blue Jackets more.
Nationwide Arena is finally becoming a place that offers support and energy for the team. With more than half of the remaining games at home, the Jackets really have an advantage.
Look for the Blue Jackets to finish with 94 points, good for seventh place. They’ll play Detroit and the series will go to seven games. The Jackets will win game seven. Fire the cannon!