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Blue Jackets face big test out West

by Brian McCormack / Columbus Blue Jackets

Blue Jackets Air touched down in California on Monday afternoon as the team settled into its west coast swing a few days early, getting set for its first big challenge of this young season with three games in four nights against the top three squads in the mighty Western Conference.

The Blue Jackets will play the San Jose Sharks (4-1-1) and Anaheim Ducks (5-1-0) on back-to-back nights Thursday and Friday before making the short trip to Los Angeles to play the Kings (4-1-1).

For some, this early trip to the Pacific Coast could seem like a blessing in disguise. The season is young, most teams have yet to hit their stride and gel as a unit, and you might have a better chance at surprising one in October than you would in January.

Anyone with those expectations hasn’t been watching much California hockey the past few seasons.

Over the past three years, all three Golden State squads have had torrid starts to the year. In the first month of action during the past three seasons (the 2012 season started in January), the Ducks have a combined record of 18-5-2. The Sharks have been even better at 21-2-3, while the Kings have been the slackers of the group at 15-7-4 starts, not to mention two Stanley Cups at the finish.

The busy week on the ice begins at SAP Center in San Jose.

The Sharks are coming off another 100-point effort in the regular season, but they lost a 3-0 series lead in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Cup champion Kings. With that, changes occurred; Dan Boyle departed via free agency, Joe Thornton lost his captaincy and the Sharks moved Brent Burns from forward back to defense.

So all that tumult would mean a rocky start, right? Very wrong.

The Sharks made a statement on opening night by ruining the Kings’ home-opener and banner raising ceremony, shutting out the defending champs 4-0. The Sharks were the last team in the NHL to suffer a regulation loss, falling to the Rangers Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. Patrick Marleau has seven points in six games, as does Burns.

Thornton has six points in the first six games, and Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture are both producing at almost a point-per-game. The Sharks’ 20 goals are tied for second in the NHL.

The Jackets were 0-1-1 against the Sharks last season, losing in regulation in their only visit to SAP Center (their final game before the Olympic break).
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