The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi are now just a distant, fond memory. The Olympic torch has been extinguished, and the NHL‘s “Big Freeze” has quickly thawed out. The league already had a handful of post-Olympic games played Wednesday, but this will be the first go for both the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils. How will the franchises respond from their respective hiatuses?
The Jackets have four profoundly disappointed Team Russia players returning to pro-club duty. Unfortunately, Fedor Tyutin‘s orders will be to eat popcorn up in the press box for two or three weeks due to his being placed on IR because of an ankle injury suffered in Sochi. Artmen Anisimov and Nikita Nikitin both had performances they’d rather forget — especially Nikitin. The bright spot in the Russian fray is the return of Sergei Bobrovsky, who played exceptionally well during his time between the pipes.
Another cause for optimism: Marian Gaborik has been cleared to play. He’s been snake-bitten by injuries lately — this season especially. Now that his groin and shattered collarbone are all apparently on the up-and-up, the Jackets will surely welcome back his scoring touch and killer speed. Local reports make it seem as if Columbus will be sitting on their hands during the Mar. 5 trade deadline, but Gaborik would be wise to treat the few games before the deadline as tryout if he desires to stay a Jacket.
The Devils are regaining the services of Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr of Team Czech Republic and Damien Brunner of Team Switzerland. Jagr, the ageless wonder, had a solid outing for his home country. New Jersey is certainly glad to have them back and all in one piece, which is more than can be said for Tyutin.
On paper, the Jackets have a very winnable game in front of them, even in the absence of their most reliable defender. The problem for them is a lot of other teams could say the same, but the old, crafty Devils team refuses to go quietly into the night and have stolen plenty of wins. New Jersey is just five points out of a wildcard spot. Most analysts don’t have them making it into the playoffs, but most of the same analysts thought they would have been out of the postseason conversation by early December.
Wily veterans and Cory Schneider‘s excellent netminding aside, this is a game the Jackets need and should win. The sting of missing out on the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker hasn’t gone away. They know that a slow start last season all but killed their postseason chances. A slow start out of the post-Olympic gate would be a death knell to the current season’s campaign.
Columbus follows up their contest with New Jersey with games against the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars. All are quite winnable, and a four-game winning streak is within their grasp. It would be a great way to launch a surge to the playoffs, and starting things off right against New Jersey would go a long way to making Columbus one of the 16 teams still standing when regular season comes to an abrupt end.