Home Sweet Home
Jackets play six straight at Nationwide from Feb. 4 to Mar. 2
Nationwide Arena was one of the toughest NHL buildings for visiting teams to enter last season. The Columbus Blue Jackets won 25 of their 41 home games in 2008-09, a record that ultimately ensured them a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While the crowd has had less to celebrate this season, the Jackets do have a chance for a little redemption on home ice. Columbus will play 15 of their final 24 games this year at Nationwide, a stretch that began on a positive note Thursday with a 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars in Claude Noel's NHL coaching debut.
"I can't even remember a home stretch that we've had this season," captain Rick Nash said following Wednesday's skate about the five-game homestand before breaking for the Olympics. "It seems to be our first one.
"We have to go on a run, not just for points in the standings but to cement our identity."
The Jackets are playing to earn back some respect. The play of the team the past two months mark some of the darker days in the franchise's history, but good teams don't roll over. They respond. And there's no better opportunity than now, at home, where they can give fans the chance to look forward with optimism.
"We obviously have a chance here to put a stretch of good games together," says veteran Fredrik Modin.
Columbus began the new chapter on the right note by producing a solid effort against the Stars. Steve Mason earned the new hard hat with a stellar performance in between the pipes and R.J. Umberger showed passion diving to secure an empty netter.
The Jackets also did something that seemed rare for much of this season – scoring the first goal. Too often, Columbus has started games on the back foot after conceding in the opening minutes.
A first goal does more than give you a lead, it instills confidence throughout the lineup and in the stands.
"In the past, we've had some problems with the start of games," says Modin. "We'll give up a goal or two early in the game and work uphill from there.
"But this is a chance for us to start playing some good hockey and get the crowd on our side and show the fans we can play."
One department they need some help in is scoring. The 66 goals the Jackets have registered in 27 home dates (2.44 goals per game) is the lowest home ice tally in the league. The boom of the Nationwide cannon firing on a more regular basis will be a welcome sound to everyone in the building.
Any one of the Jackets will tell you that hungry play, in which they initiate rather than react, will create the necessary chances to put up some offence. It's been lacking for much of the year but given the changes this week, the players are only looking ahead.
"You always want to move forward," says Derek Dorsett, one of the CBJ's more energetic players this season. "We have to put what's happened in the past behind us. We look forward to winning some games at home in front of our crowd."
Nash made reference to how great the vibe was last season when Columbus was establishing itself as a franchise to be reckoned with. The team was brimming with confidence, there was a buzz in the Arena District.
It seems like ages ago but the goal, according to the captain, is to get that back. A memorable homestand would be a great start.
"We play for our organization, for our city, for ourselves and for our fans," says Nash.
"That's what we're doing here."