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THN.com Blog: Playoff hopes abound in Columbus

Rick Nash has eight goals and 15 points in 18 games with the Jackets this season. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Rick Nash has eight goals and 15 points in 18 games with the Jackets this season. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Gather ‘round all ye Blue Jackets fans and listen to my tale...

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OK, OK, so there may not be many of you out there. In fact, according to ESPN.com, you’re 29th in average attendance and percentage capacity – more than one out of every four seats is available!

For those Jackets fans who are out there, you really have a fun team to watch. And with all this talk of “non-traditional hockey markets” and “relocation,” it’s unfortunate your team has become such an easy target. Get out your megaphones and post your billboards; encourage newcomers and advertise a chance to get on the bandwagon before the show either gets crowded or leaves town altogether. Force the naysayers to target someone else.

The Jackets are marked with the stigma of having never made the playoffs in their short – albeit it long enough – history. Being locked in a deep Western Conference doesn’t help matters, but this year they look more ready than ever and with a little more consistency, the Arch City representatives (no, not St. Louis) could very well be in the top eight come April.

Obviously, the name everyone knows is Rick Nash. The more I watch this guy, the more I realize he’s my favorite player. He’s big, fast, has nifty hands, a booming shot and he always cuts to the net instead of hanging on the periphery. He creates chances and it seems whenever he’s on the ice a goal is a very real possibility.

Columbus’s defense has actually been better than anticipated. Fedor Tyutin, though not matching Nikolai Zherdev’s inspired production in New York, has played admirably, shutting down some top lines along the way. Mike Commodore changed his Ronald McDonald image, but his monster mashes and blocked shots – both tops on the team – have been a saving grace for Columbus goalies. The defense ranks ninth in the league in shots against per game. Not bad.

The Jackets are also full of some underrated and exciting players. Derek Dorsett, though currently with the American League’s Syracuse Crunch (don’t worry, he’ll be back), is one of those undersized agitators/fighters who can really throw down. This one with Darcy Tucker shows how quick he can be – I don’t know what’s better, the epic tilt, or the announcer. And this doozy shows how tough it is to knock the 5-foot-11 scrapper down.

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Jason Chimera has got to be one of the league’s most un-talked about players. His speed and courage are undeniable. An early-November game against Edmonton was tied late until Chimera stepped in front of a Sheldon Souray slapper – yeah, that’s right – took it in the abdomen and then bolted to the bench to “make sure everything was intact.” His team rushed down the ice and scored the winner with just more than a minute left. He didn’t get an assist, but boy did he ever deserve one.

Columbus, though, does have some areas it needs to improve on.

For the first time ever, the Jackets have a secondary scoring presence – namely from UFA acquisition Kristian Huselius, the aforementioned Chimera and the emerging Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard – and it has helped them lead the league in even-strength goals. However, their power play is an abysmal 10.9 percent.

They also sit 23rd in goals-against per game, but my bet is with a strong, Ken Hitchcock-taught defensive system and a newfound youth platoon in Pascal Leclaire and Steve Mason – thus squeezing out Fredrik Norrena, who has stunk up the joint – the Jackets will start seeing their opponents’ goals take a dip.

It’ll be a battle until the bitter end and you know at least one of the teams behind them – ahem, Dallas – will start pulling it together, so the Jackets are going to be up against Calgary, Nashville, Chicago and Vancouver for seventh and eighth.

How important are those divisional games? Think Ohio St.-Michigan big. Without the swath of fans, of course.

WE WILL, WE WILL, MAUL YOU
Tipped off by a friend of mine, I think I’ve stumbled on Don Cherry’s new favorite team. You wouldn’t want to high-stick or agitate these bruisers; they really don’t care about an instigator rule.

Broad Street Bullies ain’t got nuthin’ on these carnivores.

I just want to know who this referee thinks he is. Is he really going to break up that fight?

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays and his feature, A Scout's Life, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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