You watched last night's game, right?
More than likely, you were encouraged if not thrilled by their first period. They were on their toes, attacking and pressing the Wild into mistakes and creating turnovers all over the ice. Those were the Blue Jackets you knew and loved a year ago when they tore up the Metropolitan Division.
This year, as we know, has been a little bit different.
The division is as nasty and unforgiving as it's always been. A handful of points separate the second and third place teams from the bottom of the pile. It's going to be a bloodbath from here to the house, and it's going to require every bit of gumption and drive the Blue Jackets have in order to stay in the fight.
Last night's shootout loss to Minnesota afforded us, if anything, mixed signals.
The start was tremendous. Holy smokes, were the Jackets skating and winning battles. Then in the second period, everything changed. In more succinct terms, it stopped. The Wild won the battles, they worked to create scoring chances and they owned the puck over a stretch in which the Blue Jackets were merely spectators.
Which begins the question: which Blue Jackets team will show up in February?
This is arguably their most important month on the schedule, as we've covered extensively in this space. All in all, 10 of their 13 games will be played against Metropolitan Division opponents, all of which should be considered to be in the playoff picture. While you can safely bet on a smorgasbord of three-point games coming up, the Blue Jackets must ensure that they're on the right side of the ledger the majority of the time.
What's it going to take? 7-5-1, or 8-4-1? With the former, they'll hang around and have a good chance. With the latter, they could put themselves in strong position for the regular season's final month. It's up to them. This is going to be a hell of a lot of fun to watch and report on, but also hell for the players to battle through a long stretch of games in which nothing less than their best is expected.
Friday night against San Jose will be another test. The Sharks were handled by the Penguins, a team making their run in the division and the Eastern Conference.
The Blue Jackets need to make sure their February is fruitful, and if so, it'll come at the expense of teams who really need the points.
YOU SHOULD BE READING
- Stick taps for Sergei Bobrovsky, who made his 10,000th career save last night. He's in elite company among active NHL goaltenders in that regard.
- Brandon Dubinsky returned last night, his first game since Dec. 12. Paul Berthelot looks at what his presence means to the Blue Jackets lineup.
- Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau was really, really mad that Seth Jones was permitted to play in last night's game. Sorry, Gabby.