We've talked about how important January is for the Blue Jackets.
It's their lightest month with only 10 games and includes two significant stretches of inaction: the bye week, which begins after Friday's game against the Vancouver Canucks, and then the NHL's All-Star break at the end of the month.
With the Blue Jackets fighting through injuries and waiting for some important players to come back, this short month couldn't have come at a better time. They need rest. They need time, quite frankly, and they also need to win to stay in the playoff race.
So far, so good: they're 3-1-0 in January after Monday's come-from-behind magic in Toronto and have two games remaining before they break for a week. This may sound a bit hyperbolic, but it's true: these two games are the most important of the Blue Jackets' season.
If they close it out the right way and get, say, three of four points against the Buffalo Sabres and Canucks in this back-to-back...they're in solid shape on the other side of the bye. At the moment, they're in a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, and with the New Jersey Devils struggling ahead of them, there's an opportunity to string a few wins together and climb into second place before too long.
They can start with a win tonight in Buffalo. Then, on Friday at Nationwide Arena, it's right back to work. Imagine if they head into the bye week with 56 or 57 points – there's a chance they could be close to the Metropolitan Division lead, and an even better chance they jump New Jersey into second place. That's not insignificant.
John Tortorella said after the team's Wednesday practice in Buffalo that he doesn't need to say much to his group about staying focused for these final two games. They know what's on the line, and they know how important it is to "empty the tank" before they go their separate ways on Saturday.
A strong finish is the difference between positive momentum – and a desirable position at the season's midway point – and a feeling of points being left on the table and ground to make up once the schedule resumes. The Blue Jackets have been playing better of late, so safely assume they're locked in on the former, not the latter.
YOU SHOULD BE READING
- Could All-Star game snubs be a good thing? Sam Blazer looks at the situations of both Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin.
- Big news: Alexander Wennberg is off injured reserve after only eight games and appears ready to return tonight.
- Congratulations to Seth Jones, who was named an All-Star for the second straight season.
- In this week's "Heat Check," Kyle Morrison tells us why we should bet on Bobrovsky.