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The 5th Line Report: Jackets Must Build In December

by Martin Poston / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets took one on the chin against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night, wrapping up a 2-1 week and an 8-5 month for Columbus, tying a franchise mark for wins in November.

It was the kind of month the Jackets needed to have after a 2-10 October. Of course, there is a lot of work to do, but the team is establishing a rhythm and appears to be headed in the right direction.

Consistency remains the goal as the Blue Jackets begin December.

The upcoming month will be a gut check for this team. The Jackets need to climb up the standings, and while matching last December's 10-1-1 record is a tall order, finding consistent play and taking advantage of opportunities will go a long way toward getting back in contention.

The Jackets have a slate of 14 games in December, only six of which will be at home. The two road trips are manageable -- at two and three games -- and by the time we are ringing in the new year, the Jackets will be near the halfway mark of the season, so gaining ground is a big deal this month.

It also will not be an easy task, with a string of contenders on the schedule this week, including the league-leading Montreal Canadiens, who begin the season on a 9-0-0 tear, before becoming human and going 9-4-3 since then.

However, the Habs' ability to score goals has not been an issue -- Max Pacioretty has been leading the way with 12, but his supporting cast also has familiar faces in Brendan Gallagher and Dale Weise (nine apiece) and four others on the roster with seven each. They're scoring by committee.

Meanwhile, Montreal backup Mike Condon has been carrying much of the load in net in the absence of Carey Price, who is out again with a recurring leg injury. Condon is an impressive 6-2-3 in Price's absence, and 8-2-3 overall, keeping Montreal at the top of the league, a point ahead of Dallas.

Next, the Jackets will take on a Florida Panthers team that is looking for some consistency of its own.

The Panthers struggled through November with a 5-5-2 record, but finished strong with wins over the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings over the weekend. Columbus will be stop number four of a five-game road trip for Florida, who has been leaning heavily on goaltender Roberto Luongo.

Columbus will also be the second night of a back-to-back for Florida -- the first Florida has had in a month -- so the Jackets may see Al Montoya between the pipes on Friday.

The scoresheet for the Panthers is a mix of veterans and young guns; it's no surprise to see guys like Jaromir Jagr and Jussi Jokinen at the top, supplemented by Jonathan Huberdeau, who is looking to build on his breakout season from last year.

Wrapping up the week on Saturday, the Jackets will take on the Philadelphia Flyers for the first time this season -- one of only four Metro Division games in December for Columbus. The Flyers have strengthened their goaltending tandem, adding Michal Neuvirth to challenge Steve Mason in net, so it's anyone's guess who might wind up in goal on Friday.

Although goals have not been plentiful for former Jacket Jakub Voracek, there he is toward the top of the scoring lisr for the Flyers with the likes of Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds.

Although the Flyers have hovered around the .500 mark, Philadelphia comes into this week having taken advantage of a lagging Nashville Predators in overtime on Friday, and then shutting out the New York Rangers 3-0 on Saturday. The Flyers will be returning from a three-game road trip, and the Saturday night tilt with Columbus will be the second night of a back-to-back.

A long month awaits. This Blue Jackets team can see the light, which was looking pretty dim a month ago, if it could even be seen in October.

However, even with the handful of personnel changes since last year, this team knows it has the pieces to win, and the coaching style of John Tortorella has improved the Blue Jackets' mindset. The keys are execution and consistency, and the Jackets need more of both.

The task is not easy by any means, but you can feel the sense of urgency is there on the ice.

The Jackets are winning, and they're beating contenders. Montreal will be a good test on Tuesday, but there will be plenty more to come in the next 57 games.

But...one game at a time. The Jackets only need to focus on winning the next one.

See you Friday at Nationwide, 5th Line.

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