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Staying Focused

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets
"If we play (the way we did vs. Detroit), we're going to win a lot of games." - - Forward R.J. Umberger

"Remaining in the present" is always easier said than done.

But it's something that the Blue Jackets have keyed on this season. Coach Scott Arniel wants the team to be a consistent group, taking one game at a time.

They competed hard and put pressure on the Red Wings. They forced goaltender Jimmy Howard to keep his team in the game, and most importantly, they took away time and space from Detroit's top players.

"We're playing a pressure game all over the ice," Arniel said. "You're going to be at your check a lot quicker.

"If you sit back and allow them gain space, it's a lot harder to hit them. You can't play different against different players."

Off to the best start in franchise history (14-9-1), Arniel's team has been adamant that they aren't interested in resting on any laurels or being satisfied with a win.

In fact, they are the last team in the National Hockey League to drop consecutive games this season. It took the Blue Jackets 22 games, and they have been one of the league's most resilient clubs. It took them 24 games before being shut out for the first time this season, Dec. 3 at Buffalo.

"There's no reason for us not to be confident," winger R.J. Umberger said. "We're proving that every night, we play hard.

"If we play (the way we did vs. Detroit), we're going to win a lot of games."

Jimmy Howard, Pekka Rinne and Ryan Miller were outstanding in the last four games, but Arniel has made it a point to always stay in the present. The team puts big wins in the rear-view mirror just as quickly as disappointing defeats.

And that has been evident all season: the best teams don't have exuberant highs or lows. Consistency is the name of the game in the NHL.

Looking ahead, however, Columbus will be tested in the coming weeks. After facing Pittsburgh, Dallas and the NY Rangers at home, the Blue Jackets will hit the road for the second western road trip of the season. Columbus went 3-0 on its California swing earlier this month and got stellar performances from both Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon in goal, and the team is 8-3-0 away from Nationwide Arena this season

Arniel encouraged his group to stay hungry, and it has contributed to the Blue Jackets' early success.

"Sometimes you can have that West Coast hangover," Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash said after 2-0 home ice win over the Predators on Nov. 22, the first game after the California trip.

"We have had it before. I think everyone felt pretty good and we were solid again. We forgot our road trip and just worried about (the game) against Nashville."

That has been the message from the coaching staff: remain focused. Following each disappointment, the Blue Jackets have answered with a victory more often then not. The club also put together the team's longest winning streak in nearly two years.

Despite the 0-3-1 record in their last four games, the Jackets stayed in the fifth spot in the Western Conference standings. If they continue to bounce back after disappointments like the one against Buffalo, the Blue Jackets will be going toe-to-toe for the Central Division in the spring.

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