After an uninspiring loss to the Carolina Hurricanes to open up the 2019 calendar, the Blue Jackets responded with a much needed overtime win over the Florida Panthers.
Much needed? It may sound a bit dramatic on the surface, but consider that had the Blue Jackets lost the first two games of their road trip against (currently) non-playoff teams to open up the new year, they'd be limping into the following gauntlet: the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, who are 17-4-0 at home, the Nashville Predators, who are as deep as any team in the Western Conference, and the Washington Capitals, the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
The Blue Jackets, despite going 7-2-1 in their past 10 games, have lost ground in the suddenly-insanely-hot Metropolitan Division. They'll enter Tuesday's game in Tampa as the third-ranked team in the division, with the New York Islanders just one point behind with one game in hand.
The NHL has basically achieved its goal of parity, but the truth remains: over 82 games, the top teams tend to beat the lesser teams with regularity. For the Blue Jackets to take the step from good to great, they'll need to show they can play with the big dogs.
So far this season, the Blue Jackets are a combined 4-6-0 against the NHL's top ten teams (as of Sunday evening), and 1-2-0 against the three dominating team's they're playing this week. But that doesn't paint the whole picture, as they were blown out in their two losses (at Tampa, vs. Washington).
John Tortorella said last week that he doesn't think much of "measuring stick" games because he wants his team to be the one that's measured against. While I admire the psychology behind it, the 8-2 loss in Tampa, and the 4-0 loss against the Capitals were, frankly, measuring stick games. And the Blue Jackets didn't just measure up short, they were humiliated. They were outclassed. They were humbled.
Mercifully, the games were regular season games that count for the same two points as any other game, and the Blue Jackets have an opportunity to rectify past demons. As the trade deadline approaches, clubs are trying to get a feel for what their teams have, what they lack, and how to proceed going forward.
While one week is an awfully short audit on a team, all games simply aren't created equally. And there's no question that Blue Jackets brass will be keeping a watchful eye on these three consecutive matchups against the NHL's elite.
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