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Away Games Continue To Separate the Columbus Blue Jackets from the Winners

Aaron TomContributor INovember 28, 2009

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 23: Mike Commodore #22  of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 23, 2009 in New York, New York. The Rangers defeated the Blue Jackets 7-4.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Jackets have long had a history of struggling on the road.  The culmination of this problem came in the 2007-2008 season, when their 14-22-5 away mark was one of the worst in the league and was most certainly the main factor the Jackets missed the playoffs that year (they held a decent 20-14-7 mark at home).

Meanwhile, their small yet promising improvement to 16-18-7 on the road last season is partially the reason the Jackets made their way into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history (though it was certainly aided by their stunning 25-13-3 mark in the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena), and signaled a potential turnaround for the club.

Well, now the road problem has reared its ugly head again, as a recent five-game road trip threw the Jackets from the ninth position in the league, all the way down to 18th, following their performance (or lack thereof) during a five-game road trek that mercifully ended on Thanksgiving Day.

It started off innocently enough, with the Jackets laying a solid walloping on the Dallas Stars, taking the game 4-1.

It would be their only win of the entire trip.

Following a close 4-3 overtime loss to their main rivals, the Nashville Predators (that, as usual, featured very little excitement or  physical play for being touted as a "rivalry"), Columbus dropped the final three straight games in regulation. 

What's worse is the heartbreaking (though sadly familiar) way in which they were lost:

Columbus held a 2-0 lead early on in the first  period against the New York Rangers, only to get destroyed 7-4; Columbus lead Montreal 3-2 going in to the third period of their contest, only to allow three third-period goals in a ridiculous 5-3 loss.

Steve Mason, who played an otherwise solid game, allowed a horrible wraparound goal to Ottawa left-winger Nick Foligno with just 6:10 remaining, breaking a 1-1 tie and giving the Senators a 2-1 victory (it should also be noted Columbus scored the first goal in that game, before allowing the Sens to tie it up less than a minute later).

Prior to this swing, the Jackets were sitting pretty at 5-4-1 away from Nationwide Arena, but their horrible 1-3-1 record during the road-trip now has them at 6-7-4, and on an all too recognizable path.

There is perhaps some light at the end of the tunnel: The five-game trip is the longest of the season for Columbus, who don't embark on another one of any significance until they face a four-game road streak at the end of December.

That means the excuses in Columbus will be null-and-void this year.  They have no epic road-streak like the one the New Jersey Devils had come to an end earlier this month, playing ten straight games outside of the Prudential Center (and winning nine straight before falling to the Flyers). 

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In fact, a vast majority of their remaining road games are quick one- or two-game bursts that should feel more like vacation than a journey.

In other words, they simply must start winning on the road.  It has been a flaw for the entire franchise for just about the entirety of their short existence, with their ineptitude on the road the cause for falling short of the playoffs in a couple of seasons past.

Yes, they can technically make up for it by just doing outstanding at home, something they didn't have a problem doing last year, and yes, they may end up earning a playoff berth regardless of how poorly they play on the road.

However, if it doesn't come back to haunt them during the regular season, it will more than likely do it again during the playoffs, where solid road-play isn't recommended, but actually critical to a team's long-term success. 

We saw it in the first round of the playoffs last season, where two straight losses to the Red Wings in Detroit put the Blue Jackets into a 0-2 series hole early, thus deflating any form of momentum the Jackets may have had returning home for the third game.

How would the series have looked if Columbus had just won ONE of their games in Hockeytown?  Perhaps it would have just been wrapped up in five games; a small misstep on the part of the Red Wings. 

But maybe, just maybe, the Jackets build upon that momentum, taking both of the ensuing games at Nationwide, and putting them up 3-1 in the series as it would shift back to Joe Louis Arena for game five, and putting Columbus in control of their own destiny.

What could that possibly have done to the team's confidence heading into later rounds?

I know, the past doesn't matter, and the slate is wiped clean.  And I know, it may be far too early before claiming the Jackets road game is lacking.  And I know, the "what-ifs" don't matter, there is only the future. 

The problem is, time is running out for a financially-strapped Columbus team.

If they cannot put together a solid season, complete with a decent run in the playoffs, and real fast, they might not have one here in Columbus, something that would leave the local economy, especially within the Arena District (a popular set of bars and restaurants built and centered entirely around Nationwide Arena), in shambles.

And, unless they put up unbelievable numbers at home, and somehow earn home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs (something that, especially to a fan of the team, seems nothing but ridiculous and laughable), they just may find themselves exiting the playoffs again this year in a similar fashion.

That is, assuming, they make it there at all.

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