The Columbus Blue Jackets are already nearly halfway through December, and are in need of making up serious ground, while also facing the kind of adversity that seems to follow this franchise.
The Jackets' No. 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky went down with a lower body injury on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings, and has since been placed on injured reserve.
With Bob expected out at least a couple more weeks, the Jackets face the tough task of getting out of the NHL's cellar without their top netminder.
That puts a significant amount of pressure on Jackets backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who -- despite solid and sometimes flat-out heroic efforts -- has not yet cracked the win column this season (0-5-2).
The Blue Jackets find themselves in desperate need of wins and points in order to get back into contention for the postseason, and solid goaltending is only going to get them so far. The team needs 60-minute efforts and much better play in their own end to get through this month and find some daylight.
That is the situation the Jackets face as they take on a busy week of hockey, with four matchups in six days. Three of the four opponents have faced similar struggles in December, in getting some consistency and gaining points in the standings.
After playing the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night at Nationwide Arena, the Jackets had a post-game departure for Dallas. The Blue Jackets and the Dallas Stars will face off on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center.
The Stars are 3-1-2 in December, and are currently at the top of the NHL at 46 points, three better than East-leading Montreal. Their goaltending tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi has been rock solid this season, with both netminders sporting double digits in the win column already this season.
Meanwhile, on offense, the Stars are getting plenty of scoring at the top, beginning with captain Jamie Benn and supplemented very nicely by the scoring power that the Stars have acquired via trade over the last few years in Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp. Not an easy task to beat this team on the road, to say the least.
On Thursday, the Jackets take on a rested but very much struggling Arizona Coyotes team that has lost six of its last seven games.
Inconsistency in goal by Mike Smith has some fans calling for Anders Lindback to get more time, especially after Lindback snapped the Coyotes’ five-game losing streak with a 1-0-1 record in a weekend back-to-back.
The ‘Yotes’ tilt with Columbus will be their first since Saturday. Meanwhile, the talk of the town in Glendale -- and around the league -- has been the play of rookie Max Domi, who is leading the team in scoring with 10 goals and 25 points.
The Jackets then return home on Saturday to face the Philadelphia Flyers, who look to avenge a 4-1 loss on Dec. 5. Philly has lost three of its last four (1-2-1), and have home games against Carolina and Vancouver before coming to Columbus on Saturday.
The margin for error for the Jackets is getting thinner each day.
They need scoring from their big guns. Nick Foligno’s rediscovering his scoring touch could not have come at a better time, the play from Scott Hartnell has improved since his recent scratch, and Cam Atkinson is playing like he’s on fire right now.
The Jackets need to grind out wins this week. A good run in these four games this week and against Pittsburgh next Monday could make for a nice early Christmas present for the fans before the holiday break.
See you at Nationwide, 5th Line.