COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Columbus Blue Jackets commanded the NHL spotlight earlier this season with a surprise 16-game winning streak, but lately they’ve struggled to play crisp hockey in consecutive periods, let alone in consecutive games.
The inconsistent play since the streak ended has the Blue Jackets searching for the right formula again as they embark on a seven-game home stand and begin the push toward the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“This is a huge part of our schedule, because we need to establish our rink as a tough place to play,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said.
Columbus is 7-8-1 since the 16-game streak — the second-longest in NHL history — was snapped on Jan. 5.
Tortorella and players have talked about inconsistent effort and even underestimating opponents. Captain Nick Foligno said some of his teammates on the ice were “standing around watching” as the last-place New Jersey beat up on the Jackets in a 5-1 loss Saturday. That came a night after Columbus lost in overtime to Pittsburgh after overcoming a two-goal deficit in the third period.
After a slow start Tuesday night in Detroit, the Blue Jackets came from behind to beat the Red Wings 3-2 on a Seth Jones goal in overtime and avoid a three-game losing streak.
“You win one, you lose a couple, that’s where our record is,” Tortorella said. “You got to be really careful. There are no easy games in this league.”
Columbus is scoring one fewer goal per game on average since the streak, and allowing opponents nearly two more. The best power-play team in the NHL is 0 for 6 with a man advantage in the last half-dozen games.
All that said, the Blue Jackets (34-13-5) have already matched their win total for all of last season and are on track for just their third playoff appearance in the 16-year history of the franchise. They’re in second place in the tough Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of Pittsburgh.
Columbus has a chance to gain some ground beginning Thursday night against struggling Vancouver, the first of seven straight games at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets are 18-6-1 in their own building this season.
“This is a big point in our season,” Foligno said. “Seven home games in a row. This can really set us up to come out of the bye week (Feb. 20-24) with guns a blazing. We’re looking forward to that.”
The schedule includes Metropolitan Division rivals New York Rangers, Pittsburgh and New York Islanders, all fighting for a playoff spot.
“I think you need to take care of business at home,” winger Boone Jenner said. “We need to get these points in the bank at home in the next couple weeks.”
Tortorella suggested some players on the young team haven’t been in the position of fighting for the NHL playoffs at this point in the season, what he calls the “dog days.” He said if the Blue Jackets can get back to playing consistent periods again, the wins will take care of themselves.
“They have to accept the challenge that they have to raise their level,” he said. “This is a great spot to be in. But accept the responsibility that comes with it. It’s easy to play when you’re basically out (of the playoff race).”