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The 5th Line Report: Jackets begin another week of rematches

by Martin Poston / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets head into another week of rematches after managing to make a little bit of progress in taking three of a possible four points over the weekend.

The Jackets are poised to make a climb if they can start putting some wins together.

Consistency and 60-minute games are still an issue for the Jackets, as a late penalty cost them dearly in a loss at Montreal on Tuesday, and the good guys had problems generating shots at times in a shootout loss against the Florida Panthers on Friday.

However, looking at the team after a 4-1 win against the Flyers on Saturday reminds the Jackets faithful how tough it is to write Columbus off this year. The accomplishments this team has achieved, even when it has been written off, have been pretty spectacular.

Few gave Columbus a chance after a lackluster start a year ago, before they went 10-1-1 to December, and certainly no one saw the Jackets pulling off what they did in March and April of last year.

However, this team is still in a hole, albeit not as deep as it was a month ago. It is still there, and the Jackets have to find a sense of urgency to make up more ground and do so quickly.

That task begins this week against the Los Angeles Kings, who begin a six-game road trip in Columbus on Tuesday. They're the winners of four straight, including five of their last six, and currently lead the Pacific Division. The Kings' success this season is partly due to new talent that was acquired during the off-season.

The Kings have found an excellent complement to Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli in Milan Lucic, whom they acquired via trade with Boston in the off-season. Lucic’s scoring touch has returned after his numbers dropped off a bit last year with the Bruins.

The Carter-Toffoli-Lucic line represents the Kings’ top three scorers this season, with Carter leading the way with 25 points. After a rough 0-3 start of the season, L.A. has been amassing points and pulling away in the standings, with a seven-point lead over San Jose in the Pacific standings.

Speaking of standings, the Winnipeg Jets have leveled off a bit after a hot start. The team got off the tracks in early November and now sit at .500, and in sixth in the always-tough Central Division. That being said, they're only third in the Wild Card race, which is a testament to the toughness of the Central Division.

The big story in Winnipeg of late has been the rise of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who has been splitting duties with regular backup Michael Hutchinson in the absence of No. 1 netminder Ondrej Pavelec, who is expected to be out at least through December with a knee sprain.

The Islanders took an overtime loss at Ottawa to begin a three-game road trip that concludes in Columbus on Saturday.

Life is pretty good in Brooklyn right now, with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo leading a strong forward corps in scoring, and a solid goaltender tandem in Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss, who have split duties fairly evenly throughout the season so far.

Back in Columbus, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella's system has been paying dividends. He also hasn't hesitated sitting star players that he doesn't feel are playing well, and it has paid off.

Scott Hartnell's three-point performance on Saturday, after sitting the night before as a healthy scratch, was evidence that the players on this team respond to adversity. In the meantime, Nick Foligno has hit the score sheet again, tallying three goals in the past week.

Jackets No. 1 center Ryan Johansen is quietly among the team leaders in scoring, Cam Atkinson has been showing speed and creating opportunities for the Jackets and the group is showing that there is still plenty left in the tank to make a run in December.

Now, realistically, five games below .500 is still a significant obstacle to overcome, and the Jackets need to tighten up their game and not fall prey to the fundamental lapses that have led to some tough one-goal losses lately.

Columbus needs to help Sergei Bobrovsky, because he cannot do it alone.

We've all seen what he can do when the guys in front of him are playing well. Better play equals more hugs. We all know we can get behind that math, right?

See you at Nationwide on Tuesday, 5th Line.

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