The Columbus Blue Jackets are coming upon their most critical stretch of the season with a four-game road trip starting tonight against the Nashville Predators. As the calendar turns from 2010 to 2011, the playoff races are already starting to heat up.
Approaching the midway point of the season, Columbus is within a point of the eighth place “bar” in the Western Conference. All four of the Blue Jackets’ next opponents are Western opponents that are within four points of them in the standings.
The Blue Jackets are looking to break a 14-game losing streak in Bridgestone Arena this evening.
The Blue Jackets might be without defenseman Anton Stralman as the Blue Jackets have said he did not participate in the squad’s morning skate leading up to tonight’s game against Nashville. That would mean Mike Commodore would have to rejoin the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last two games.
As the Blue Jackets try to end one streak, they try to continue another. The Blue Jackets are riding a three-game winning streak following Columbus’ 4-3 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators Friday night. Columbus got two of its best contributions from winger Jakub Voracek and goalie Steve Mason. Voracek had an assist on the Blue Jackets’ first goal scored by R.J. Umberger, and Mason was solid stopping 35 of the Senators’ 38 shots.
Both Mason and Voracek have been in Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel’s doghouse at times recently. In mid-December, Mason was pulled from three starts in a four game stretch for backup Mathieu Garon. Garon remained the starter until he gave up 10 goals in two games around Christmas.
“I know what he has been going through, I actually talked to him after we were done here (Friday) morning, and just comeback and show everybody that he should have been in the lineup,” Mason said. “And I thought he did a great job (against the Senators) and we’re going to look for more efforts from him.”
Before Friday’s game, Voracek was a healthy scratch for the Blue Jackets’ previous two games.
Those in the locker room and coaching staff agreed that for the Blue Jackets to have success on the road, Voracek and Mason are going to have to continue to stepping up.
“It is about a process… it isn’t about one game and being happy and satisfied with that,” Arniel said. “With (Mason), you see his confidence is there again, that is the first step towards him being a good goalie. It is about how he handles it now. We’re going into Nashville and he has to reload and start over again.
“With Jake, I am going to tell him the same thing I told (Mason). He had a great game coming back, he did everything we asked him to do. Now he has to do it again in Nashville.”
“(Voracek) is a difference maker,” Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash said. “Sometimes guys go through ruts. Usually when guys come out of them, they come out even stronger and tonight, he was our best player.”
The Predators enter tonight’s game one point behind the ninth place Blue Jackets as Nashville has 42 points compared to 43 for Columbus.
The Blue Jackets took yesterday off from practice and used it as a travel day.