NHL Central Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets first foray into the NHL playoffs was over before they could even take a breath. After getting swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round the Jackets are looking for retribution this season.
Columbus finished last season with a 41-31-10 record which placed them seventh in the Western Conference and secured their first playoff appearence in club history. Rick Nash lead the team with 40 goals and 79 points. Rookie goaltender Steve Mason came in to the fold to help when star goalie Pascal LeClaire went down with an injury. Mason's stellar play allowed Columbus to offload the injury proned LeClaire to Ottawa as part of the Antoine Vermette trade.
While other teams in the Central were making big moves with big name players, the Blue Jackets made some low key moves which could help this team make the playoffs again this season.
After trading Pascal LeClaire and allowing Wade Dubielewicz to leave for Minnesota the Jackets needed an experienced goalie with a Stanley Cup pedigree. Enter Mathieu Garon, who won the Cup with Pittsburgh last season. After three and a half seasons with the Kings and Oilers Garon finally has made it to a team with some scoring up front and that should allow him to improve on his already decent record.
Sammy Pahlsson's addition should allow Jakub Voracek, Fedor Tyutin, and Derick Brassard a chance to progress without being the go-to guys behind Nash. While Pahlsson will not score a ton, he will be able to open things up even more for Nash.
On October 30th the Jackets welcome Sydney Crosby to town in a matchup of two of the most prolific scorers in the league.
Two nights later on November 1st the Jackets are in Washington to face the other top scorer in the league in Alex Ovechkin. It will be very interesting to see how Steve Mason handles both of these games.
November 19th through the 26th, Columbus embarks on a five game road trip, which will be the longest of the season. Three of these games will be against Eastern Conference foes including the Rangers and Canadiens.
December 1st is one of two nationally televised games for Columbus this season. This game will pit the Jackets against division rival Chicago, who had their number last season going 3-1-2 against Columbus.
Finally to end the season the Jackets will look to get revenge to a certain extent when they have a home and home series with Detroit April 7th and 9th. This could very well determine seeding in the Conference and Division so both of these games will be very intense.
Players to Watch:
Rick Nash- 40 goal scorer last season and led the team in points. Teams will key on him again this season byt he will get help from guys like Vermette, Pahlsson, and Vorcek. Look for his re-match with TJ Oshie on November 30th.
Nikita Filatov- Playing in only 8 games last season Filatov still managed 4 goals and a +3 rating. He will fit in nicely with Voarcek Brassard and he could compete for Calder Trophy consideration.
Steve Mason- Can he avoid the sophomore slump? Chances are he could and if he does he will put up solid numbers. Look for a 2.40 GAA and 30+ wins again this season as he could steal a playoff spot for this team again.
Columbus is almost a mirror image of the St. Louis Blues in that they have fresh young talent mixed with good veteran leadership and a strong coaching staff. The Jackets could land anywhere from 3rd to last in the division. I think they will match last years success and finish at 41-33-8 and finish 4th in the division but just slipping into the playoffs at the 8th seed.
The division will be hotly contested and anyone can win. So if you are a Columbus Blue Jackets fan do not dispair because this will be a good season no matter where they finish.
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