On This Day Last Year, The Columbus Blue Jackets' Shutout Victory Over The Washington Capitals Was The Game That Turned The Season Around

By Ed Francis on December 16, 2020 at 8:05 am
Robinson's first period goal started the 2019-20 turnaround.
©Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Exactly one year ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets were in the midst of a 1-4-2 stretch of hockey.

They were 12-14-6 overall, and of the 31 teams in the NHL, only the New Jersey  Devils and Detroit Red Wings had fewer than the Blue Jackets' 30 points.

It's not that Columbus was awful; five of the 14 regulation losses were by just one goal, the injuries were starting to mount, and they were still adjusting to life without Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin. You could make the argument that their record is about where most people would have projected them to start.

They looked sharp at times, too. Just one week earlier, on December 9th, the Blue Jackets won 5-2 in the nation's capital, when Washington had a record of 22-4-5. It was the "1" in the 1-4-2 stretch. 

The Blue Jackets promptly lost their next two games in overtime. 

So one week later - December 16th, 2019 - when the Blue Jackets frustrated the Capitals again, this time to the tune of a 3-0 shutout at Nationwide Arena, it got folks thinking: can this team contend this season? It was the first time all season the Capitals had been held scoreless (it only happened one other time after that in the regular season, by the way), and the second time in a week Columbus had soundly defeated the team with the league's best record. 

The answer to the question, as we now know, was yes: the Blue Jackets could contend right then and there. The game was Joonas Korpisalo's second shut out of the season, and started what would be a five game win streak for Columbus to lead into the Christmas break. The five straight victories sent Columbus from 29th in the league in points to 22nd, and from six points out of a potential playoff spot to two. 

This was all while the injuries continue to mount, but none bigger than Korpisalo's torn meniscus against the Chicago Blackhawks in just the second game back from the holiday break. The Blue Jackets lost that game in overtime (as they had two nights earlier to Washington, who finally got a small measure of revenge), but it would be February 8th (!!!) before Columbus would lose in regulation again to a team other than the San Jose Sharks, who handed the Jackets two losses in the first ten days of 2020.

Where did the 18-2-3 streak send the Jackets?

Date Record Conference Rank NHL Rank Impressive?
December 16th, 2019 12-14-6 14th 29th No
February 8th, 2020 30-16-9 5th 7th Very

The run ended in dramatic fashion: the Jackets took a 1-0 lead into the third period against the Colorado Avalanche before allowing a pair of late goals. Seth Jones had been hurt earlier in the game and it would ultimately be his last game of the regular season. The Blue Jackets would lose their next seven, as well, though picked up points in four of those games for a less-than-stellar 0-4-4 run and were able to stay in contention until the regular season came to an abrupt end in early March due to the Coronavirus.

When the regular season ended, the Blue Jackets were at 81 points and tied for the final playoff spot in the eastern conference. When the season resumed - in bubble form - Columbus was matched up against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a play-in series, and did in fact "play in" to their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs before being eliminated in Round One to the eventual champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A wild ride with more twists and turns than anyone could have expected, and one that got started on December 16th, 2019.