Winners In Three Of Last Four, This Marks A Critical Stretch For Blue Jackets

By Will Chase on November 29, 2023 at 10:15 am
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Pascal Vincent scans the bench during the third period against the Dallas Stars at Nationwide Arena.
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Well, well, well...

Following their latest toughest loss of the season on Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes, blowing a 2-0 third-period lead, the Columbus Blue Jackets went home, shoved Sunday's bitter loss somewhere deep, and played their best game of the season against one of the league's best in the Boston Bruins 24 hours later.

Coming off that 5-2 win, Pascal Vincent's club finds themselves in the middle of their best stretch of hockey, having won three of their last four games. Never mind they could be on a four-game winning streak and going for a fifth when they host the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.

So, how impressed was Vincent following Monday's win?

"I am, and I'm not," Vincent said. "Carolina is a real good hockey team, and we played with those guys for two periods. And we just didn't manage that sequence, three plays, bang, bang, bang.

"But the intensity I've seen from those guys and the way we've been playing for quite some time now. It's impressive. But I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised that they came together today, the way they've played. And everybody chipped in. We played really well as a team.

"I'm happy about it but not overly surprised."

We've been hearing for a while now, whether from Vincent or the players, that the team is close. Even during a nine-game losing streak.

Close to what?

Through all the blown leads, third-period meltdowns, turnovers, and the same mistakes that would plague the team, is there a light at the end of the tunnel now?

After a huge 7-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 22 that left no doubt, a 2-1 win at the New Jersey Devils on Black Friday, in which some of the same troubling third-period concerns existed, but Elvis Merzlikins bailed out the team with a gutsy effort and Monday's huge win after a gut-punch loss on Sunday, the Blue Jackets might be trending in the direction Vincent has alluded to.

Wednesday's matchup features a rematch against a Canadiens team that beat Columbus 4-3 in overtime at Bell Centre on Oct. 26 — a game Columbus led by two goals twice. Montreal is 9-10-2 and in seventh in the Atlantic Division.

After Spencer Martin's start in goal on Monday, Merzlikins should get the nod against Montreal. He's been playing well in November. Since Nov. 12, Merzlikins is 2-4-1 with a .918 SV% and 3.01 GAA. Over his last three starts, he's 2-1-0, .940, 2.35.

The Jackets' offense has raised the bar throughout November, putting up 3.14 goals for per game. Per Natural Stat Trick, their GF/60 is second in the league (3.31) this month.

Looking ahead, Columbus hosts the last-place Ottawa Senators (8-9-0). Will we get Merzlikins versus Joonas Korpisalo?

The Atlantic Divison tour continues when we get an intriguing rematch between the Blue Jackets at the Bruins on Sunday. Columbus comes back home to face Pierre-Luc Dubois and the Los Angeles Kings next Tuesday, and then they'll head back within the division to see the New York Islanders on Long Island on Dec. 7.

There's a lot to see between now and then and yet this stretch is crucial for a Blue Jackets team itching to erase their tough start and inch closer back to relevance.

Currently occupying last place in the Metropolitan, Columbus is three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and Devils, four points from the Islanders and Washington Capitals.

Let's see if the tough lessons learned early have caught on and if the good habits we see from games like Monday begin to stick.

Maybe Vincent was right, and the team is close.