To say the Columbus Blue Jackets have their backs against the wall would be a massive understatement.
Following a road trip that saw losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, the Blue Jackets return to Nationwide Arena for a three-game homestand that begins on Tuesday against the Dallas Stars and continues to Saturday against the Washington Capitals.
The good news is that the Jackets only have two games this week, with a few days of rest in between. The not so good news -- at least on paper -- is that those two games are against the leaders in each conference, who also happen to be the two highest scoring teams in the NHL (Dallas averages 3.5 goals per game, Washington averages 3.1).
Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin continue to seemingly score at will for the Stars, while Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza have also had hot hands of as of late. Meanwhile, in goal, it’s a matter of picking your poison between Antti Niemi or Kari Lehtonen.
Niemi has won three of his previous four starts, with the loss coming in a shootout at St. Louis on Saturday, which was the first half of a home-and-home. Lehtonen shut out the Blues, 3-0, in the second half on Sunday.
As for the Capitals, their leading scorer probably needs no introduction, but Alex Ovechkin has also had quite a bit of help in the scoring department from the likes of Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie.
However, the biggest story coming out of Washington as of late has been the play of goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 14-0-1 in his last 15 starts.
The hope is that goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky will be back in the fold soon, as he traveled with the team on the most recent road trip. Captain Nick Foligno is also day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
The Jackets need to finish strong in December, whatever the odds.
That means finding a scoring touch that has been lacking for much of the season, avoiding mistakes that put them in the penalty box, finding a way to clamp down on defense and giving more support to their goaltenders.
The conclusion of next Tuesday’s match-up against the Minnesota Wild will mark the midpoint of the season. This team is not out of the playoff race. However, there is no denying that this team is on the brink.
In March and April, fans saw a 15-1-1 run by the Jackets, which was unlike anything that has ever been seen before in Columbus.
This existing lineup has got to find a way to do that, or something like it. And that means finding solutions in the dressing room, and creating success on the ice. It’s not an impossible climb, but it is a steep one.
One that demands a sense of urgency, and for players to step up.
See you at Nationwide, 5th Line.