Just when it appeared that the Columbus Blue Jackets were playing themselves out of any playoff possibilities and into another NHL lottery drawing, the Blue Jackets reeled off an impressive 11-3-3 streak. However, just as soon as Columbus was back in the playoff hunt, they continued their schizophrenic ways with a disastrous 0-3-3 meltdown and now find themselves needing an improbable finish to capture the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
Add to that the Blue Jackets return to a fragile psyche, after blowing 3-1 and 3-0 leads to the previously struggling St. Louis Blues, only to lose both games in a shootout and in overtime, and you have an even more difficult task.
If the Blue Jackets don’t make an improbable run at the post-season, it won’t be for the lack of faith and dogged determination of their rookie head coach, Scott Arniel.
“As much as everybody looks at the gloom and doom we are just looking to get that first win here tonight and let things happen from there,” said Arniel, “We can’t dwell on the past. As much as people speculate or want to think we are done, that we aren’t going to make it, we still have 16 games to play.
“We’ve seen it done in this league in other years and we’ve got a bunch of games (nine) at home and six against the East. We’ve still got opportunities to move forward.”
While his comments may be either delusional or overly optimistic, it comes down to this: What else is he supposed to say?
If he states that it’s over, he’s essentially raised the white flag and that would have a devastating effect on both the team and at the gate, as fans would opt to stay away from hockey games to enjoy the upcoming pleasant weather that should arrive shotly. And for a team who’s already experienced a 25% drop in full-season equivalents (FSEs), that drop in attendance could be fiscally disastrous.
While the quest for the playoffs is not impossible, it is highly improbable. Here’s why:
If you look at the Los Angeles Kings, who currently occupy the eighth position in the Western Conference standings, and project their total points (79) over the course of an 82-game schedule, it projects to 97 points. However, even if you project the Calgary Flames current point totals (81) over an 82-game season, it would project to 95 points.
This, however, is using a straight-line projection of accumulating points/games played over the remaining 12-15 games of the season. And when you look at the teams who occupy the fourth-eighth positions in the Western Conference standings, most have done so via phenomenal second half surges, particularly during their last 20 games. While wins and losses do even out, teams with the talent level of these front-runners are merely hitting their stride.
So what record or accumulated point totals will it take for the Blue Jackets to nab the eighth and final position? With 71 points through 67 games, in order to attain 95 points, it will require a record of 12-4-0 over their last 16 games. But if the teams above them continue to surge, 96 or 97 points is a safer assumption. Using 96 points as a barometer, it would require a finishing record of 12-3-1 and a 13-3-0 run to attain 97 points.
What complicates their possibilities even more is the Jackets are tied for 12th in the Western Conference with the St. Louis Blues. Add to that, the Blue Jackets would have to climb over three other Western Conference rivals, all of whom are in closer striking distance of the eighth and final spot. In short, it will require ‘The Perfect Storm’ to simultaneously rise at a meteoric rate while four teams descend at an equally meteoric plummet.
While teams eliminating each other is a distinct possibility, those teams are only one or two points out of the last playoff spot – the Blue Jackets are currently eight points away from the eighth position.
While some would point to the Blue Jackets impressive 14-6-0 start to the season, keep in mind that the run was performed early in the season. While a fast start will never hurt you, there is a great difference between getting off to a great start and fighting for playoff survival. And that’s what the majority of their upcoming opponents are doing – fighting for their playoff lives.
Of their remaining 15 games, 12 are against teams who are either presently in a playoff spot or legitimately still in the hunt. In other words, very few remaining opponents on the Blue Jackets schedule are merely playing out the string of regular season games.
But what may been the nail in the proverbial coffin for the Blue Jackets playoff chances may be the uncertain state of their goaltending. Steve Mason was headed towards another horrid season, with a sub-.900 save percetage and one of the highest goals against averages in the NHL. Mason, however, rebounded during February to post an impressive 7-1-0 record with an equally impressive .942 save percentage.
But Mason’s March has been anything but a march, posting an 0-2-2 record with a GAA of 3.44 and a save percentage of .884, and those numbers were buoyed by giving up one regulation goal on 25 saves (26 total shot on goal) on March 1st against the Vancouver Canucks.
Backup netminder Mathieu Garon has struggled as well, posting a GAA of 2.65 and a save percentage of .909. Garon’s numbers were also bolstered by stopping all 23 shots faced in a relief role (of Mason) against the Edmonton Oilers.
While their head coach, a former NHL player, and many of their veterans have seen, countless times, teams overcome an eight-point deficit, those heroic feats were accomplished in a much weaker and less powerfully balanced Western Conference, not to mention overtaking one or two teams above them, not four or five. And these teams didn’t accomplish the feat with an unsettled goaltending situation.
Sportsclubstats.com utilizes statistical models to scientifically calculate each team’s chances of making the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Blue Jackets chance to make the playoffs currently stands at 3.62 percent. If you calculate the odds of that occurring, the odds would be 27.5 to 1.
So, while possible, their chances are downright improbable.