Let's get this out of the way right now:
It's not likely.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are going to need a monumental turnaround to make it five straight appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They find themselves in the midst of a five game losing streak, and quickly falling out of contention in a tougher-than-expected Central Division. One look at the current standings would tell you that the Blue Jackets should just pack it up, pack it in, and let the offseason begin:
|TAMPA BAY||19||14||4||1||29||85.4 (1st)|
But let's give it a few more games before we completely give up on the abbreviated 2020-21 NHL season. Stranger things have happened.
The Blue Jackets can still make one last dash to save their season and make it five consecutive postseason appearances. Here's why, and here's how:
- WHY: We've seen this movie before. The Blue Jackets made the postseason last season and eliminated a dangerous Toronto Maple Leafs team before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay lightning. It can happen again. Stick with me on this math: Through 23 games in 2019-20, the Jackets were 10-9-4 and had 24 points. Through 23 games this season, they're at 21 points; only three points off that pace. Game 24 last season was a loss, so with a Blue Jackets win Tuesday against Detroit, they would be just one point away from last year's pace through 24 games. What happened after that? The Jackets won game 25, but would lose the next four in regulation for a total of 26 points through 29 games. The Jackets can eclipse last season's pace (through 29 games) by going 3-3 over the next six games.
- HOW: Put the best players on the ice and in the right spot. With all due respect to a couple of Columbus guys, through and through, why on earth is Oliver Bjorkstrand averaging less ice time this season than both Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno? Alexandre Texier was on fire to start the season, when he was at left wing, but moving him to center has not paid off. He's without a goal since the move, and is well below average in the circle at just 36%. Why not move him back to the wing? Why is David Savard not seeing a drop in ice time despite a season that seems to be getting worse and worse for him? Dean Kukan had a tough stretch, but it's been two weeks. Give him another chance, the defense is no better with him out of the lineup. One other thing: when Elvis Merzlikins returns from injury, whenever that may be, he needs to be given consecutive starts and a chance to become the #1 netminder. He's been the better goalie across nearly all statistical lines this season, and the team seems to play better in front of him.
WHY: March brings a favorable schedule. ...or at least one that can let them make up some ground. With the exception of the last game of the month (March 30th at Tampa Bay), the Blue Jackets play just four teams in the month of March: Three with Detroit, two against Florida (at home), and four each against Dallas and Carolina, including four straight against the Canes between March 18th and March 25th. Columbus is a combined 4-3-2 against those four teams this season, but
could easilyshould be 5-2-2 if not for an officiating debacle against Carolina.
- HOW: They have to want it. We've seen these guys win before. The competition this season is no better than it was in a dangerous Metro Division last season. But the Blue Jackets look uninterested in playing hockey right now, and full of doubt. Will a crowd Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena for the first time in one year and one day help? It may, and the return of the 5th Line could be just the spark that the team needs to remember that yes, they are capable of good things.