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Seeking a strong start, Jackets face busy early schedule

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

This year’s NHL schedule is not unlike any other: the Blue Jackets will play 82 regular season games, 41 of those at Nationwide Arena and 41 at 29 different arenas across North America.

But that doesn’t mean “schedule release day” should be any less exciting. In fact, one could argue that the 2014-15 season is one of the most anticipated in franchise history – especially so on the heels of the Jackets’ second Stanley Cup playoff appearance last spring.

So, where do we begin?

Well, for starters, it’s safe to say that many people in the Blue Jackets organization love this schedule. It’s fan-friendly with 19 Friday or Saturday home dates and the return of a special game that’s been gone for a few years (which we’ll touch on momentarily), but the travel could be described as “fair” and balanced with West Coast trips on both ends of the schedule.

Also an important point: just because the Blue Jackets like their schedule does NOT mean it’s an easy schedule – it’s far from that. Making the playoffs and advancing in the playoffs is one of the most significant challenges in hockey, and the Blue Jackets know that well after a down-to-the-wire playoff race with several teams in March and April.

They’ll begin on Oct. 9 in Buffalo against a Sabres team that has a new GM in Tim Murray and has a familiar face behind the bench in Ted Nolan. With Nolan in charge, you can bet the Sabres will be a hard-working, relentless group and they’re flush with youth and skill at both forward and defense.

The Blue Jackets have a tough test right off the bat, and when they come home, it gets even better.

Saturday night at Nationwide Arena, Oct. 11 against the defending Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers. All the story lines, former players, and the drama that unfolded in their last meeting in Columbus. Could you ask for a better home opener? 

“We’re going to have to bring our best on opening night,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen told “It’s an interesting rivalry that we have with the Rangers and I’m sure it will be a great atmosphere in our building. It's definitely one that we'll all be looking forward to.”

One quick note: Kekalainen will join host Bob McElligott for a special "schedule breakdown" edition of #CBJin30. The show airs LIVE at 11:30 a.m. Monday on, the team's mobile app, and on YouTube.

Columbus will play three of its first four games at home before embarking on a four-game road trip that begins in Ottawa (Oct. 18) and concludes in Los Angeles (Oct. 26) against the Stanley Cup champions.

Oh, and that special game we referred to? It's the New Year's Eve game, which makes its return to Nationwide Arena for the first time since 2011. The Blue Jackets meet their expansion brethren Minnesota Wild on Wednesday, Dec. 31 at Nationwide Arena in the final game of 2014 for both clubs (that's kind of obvious, but it makes the sentence sound better).

Last season, the Blue Jackets made the “California swing” just prior to the Olympic break and went 1-1-1 on one of the toughest jaunts in the league. They’ll get California out of the way early in 2014-15, from Oct. 23-26, and will make their “mountain trip” just after the new year, going from Arizona to Dallas to Colorado and finally to Toronto from Jan. 3-9.

“I don’t think it really matters (when you go out west),” Kekalainen said. “Those are three very good teams in California and it takes three of your best games to get points."

“Obviously, there are things to like about our schedule," he continued. "You get to play every team now, which is nice for the fans to see different teams come in here. There are the back-to-backs, too, so you have to make sure you're managing yourself with the travel. Like every team in our league, we’re not dealing with the Olympics this year so the schedule is less condensed.”

After that, Columbus’ next road trip begins Jan. 17 in Boston and ends Jan. 21 in Winnipeg, before returning home for the NHL All-Star festivities that will be held at Nationwide Arena later in the week. The NHL Skills Competition will take place Jan. 24 (Saturday night) and the All-Star Game is the next day, and there’s an NHL game in the building only two days later: Columbus tangles with Metropolitan Division rival Washington on Jan. 27.

How does the Blue Jackets’ Metropolitan Division schedule break down? Let’s have a look.

NOTE: The Blue Jackets play in an eight-team division, so the schedule is slightly unbalanced. They play two division opponents five teams each (Carolina and Pittsburgh were the five-date teams in 2013-14) and the other five opponents four times each. 

New York Rangers: four dates (two home, two away)

New York Islanders: four dates (two home, two away)

Carolina Hurricanes: four dates (two home, two away)

Philadelphia Flyers: five dates (two home, three away)

Pittsburgh Penguins: four dates (two home, two away)

Washington Capitals: five dates (three home, two away)

New Jersey Devils: four dates (two home, two away)

The Blue Jackets will have 19 sets of back-to-back games on this year’s schedule, 10 of which occur before the All-Star break. Of those 19 sets, the Blue Jackets change time zones between games only twice – Nov. 28-29 (vs. Vancouver, at Nashville) and Mar. 18-19 (at Edmonton, at Vancouver).

As was the case in 2013-14, the Blue Jackets will play every team at least twice – home and away.

If hockey didn't feel close already, think about this: the NHL preseason gets underway in less than three months, and training camps open a few days before then.

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