Jackets making playoff push with road state of mind
Earlier this season, Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel jokingly dispelled any notion of putting his team in a hotel for home games. His club had won eight of its first nine games away from Nationwide Arena and rocketed off to a 14-6-0 start.
Following a rough patch around the holidays, the Blue Jackets are back in form on the road and have used a 6-0-2 spurt in their last eight road games to climb back into the Western Conference playoff race.
Their current six-game road winning streak (after a 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks last Friday) establishes a new franchise record, beating the five-game mark set earlier this season from Nov. 4-24.
Not only have the Blue Jackets drastically improved their road play of late, they are playing a simple team-oriented game that frustrated opponents. Goaltender Steve Mason is 11-5-1 in his past 17 games and supplying playoff-caliber goaltending each time he takes the net.
"I think right now everybody is clicking really well," defenseman Marc Methot said. “We’re on the same page and keeping it simple, which helps this time of year.
Beginning with a crucial game against the Nashville Predators, the Blue Jackets are entering crunch time. Two home games this week (Nashville and Phoenix) lead up to a five-game, 10-day road trip that begins in Nashville, goes through Western Canada and ends in St. Louis.
On the current 9-3-3 streak that has pulled the club within four points of the West’s final playoff spot, the Blue Jackets have accumulated the eighth-best record in the NHL since January 13 and are outscoring opponents 21-9 in the last six games.
"The players know what needs to be done," Arniel said. “I don’t need to go in (to the dressing room) and motivate them, they don’t need a big rah-rah speech from me.
"Every game is so important and we have to be ready to go every single night."
Arniel conceded that while he doesn’t have a magic wand that created his team’s impressive road play, he has stressed that sticking to each player’s specific job is creating a successful environment.
"Usually we play a real good team game (on the road)," Arniel said. "We'd like to do more of that home, obviously. On the road, we find a way to play our game and we play it to a "T."
Contributing to the winning ways has been an assertive attitude, Arniel said. As the Blue Jackets continue to ascend the Western Conference standings, they have approached each game without intimidation and committed to their system.
The results are promising, and Arniel believes it’s only a glimpse of the potential.
"We've had success the last three to four weeks because we haven't been intimidated by any team we're playing," Arniel said. "(In Chicago), we got after them in the second and third period and did what we do best."
And it is that type of attitude and play that will help the Jackets jump into playoff position the last six weeks of the season.