The Columbus Blue Jackets have successfully played the part of Jekyll and Hyde through a spooky October.
Through 11 games, they've looked amazing for stretches of play, and equally bad for others. Take Tuesday's 5-3 loss to Detroit, where the Blue Jackets slept walked through a terrible first period, only to respond with three goals in a 10-minute span in the third period in which Detroit barely touched the puck. Then, despite several glorious chances to take the lead, the Red Wings made them pay and stole a point (or two).
But life in the NHL is about having a short memory – for better or worse – and the Blue Jackets have an opportunity to put that loss far in the rear-view mirror.
On Wednesday, the Blue Jackets departed for a quick, three-games-in-four-days trip to California. The west-coast swing starts with a stop in San Jose, where the Sharks play host. On Friday morning, the team will take off for a flight down the coast to Los Angeles, where they'll practice, and then play the Kings and Anaheim Ducks on a back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday.
The Sharks are a good team that is bordering on the NHL's elite. They were bounced in the second round by the Vegas Golden Knights a year ago, and responded by acquiring two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. The Sharks lead the Pacific Division in points, and have a top three defense corps in the NHL, at worst. Scoring goals has never been an issue for this club, with Evander Kane, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl, coupled with deadly special teams.
Both the Kings and Ducks, unlike the Sharks, have had having difficulties to begin the season. The Kings, who sit tied for last in the NHL standings with a 3-7-1 record, are among the oldest club's in the NHL. And despite the offseason acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk, their 22 goals is far-and-away last in the NHL. Columbus, meanwhile, is in the bottom five of the NHL in goals allowed, so something's going to give there.
While the Ducks are having a better season than their SoCal counterparts, they're mostly playing like sitting ducks (I'm sorry). More specifically, they're leaking shots, and with a 5-6-2 record, aren't the intimidating squad of yesterday. But behind Vezina (and maybe Hart) Trophy front-runner John Gibson, they're still squarely in the hunt.
Ducks goaltenders are facing a lot of shots this season. pic.twitter.com/yMdWBoGQly— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) October 29, 2018
Bonus: Kiefer Sherwood, Columbus native and brother of Blue Jackets prospect Kole, beat the odds and made the Ducks out of camp. He's been a staple with the team, playing in 12 of their 13 games, and has 2-2-4 to show for it.
The annual California getaway has a way of impacting a team. Look no further than one year ago, where the Blue Jackets made the California trip right after the trade deadline. Sparked by the acquisition of Ian Cole, Thomas Vanek, and Mark Letestu, the Blue Jackets dominated at home against Washington before flying west. There, they lost the first two games, against the Kings and Ducks, before salvaging the road-trip with a win against the Sharks, the first of 10 wins that took the Blue Jackets out of the middle-ground and squarely into the playoffs.
These are three teams that made the playoffs in 2017-18. Complacency, like we saw at home against the Arizona Coyotes and Red Wings, should not and simply can not be a factor. This trip, while early in the NHL calendar year, could prove pivotal (one way or another) for the inconsistent Blue Jackets.