Think about last season for a minute. Think back to the amazing run the Jackets had in getting so agonizingly close to the playoffs. After a slow start, things slowly started to get together. Winning became more and more common as the calendar drew toward April. Now, what was unusual about last year? The lockout, right? The season started in January. As a result, the Jackets played against ALL Western Conference teams. So now let's draw some conclusions from this.
Not many people would argue the fact that the Western Conference at the top is better than the Eastern Conference. Chicago last season was clearly the best team. The Jackets came within a whisker of making the playoffs in the much tougher conference. With me so far?
Ok. Now, let's factor in a very unusual circumstance. Both the Jackets and the Red Wings switched conferences and came East. (It's not every season that you get this, hence the unusual part!) So both teams went from a stronger conference to a weaker conference. One should be able to reasonably conclude that these teams have a great chance of making the playoffs. Let's focus in now on what the Jackets have done to position themselves for success this season.
Predictably, the season started slow due to injuries. Horton, Gaborik, Bob, (and many, MANY, others) missed significant time. As a result, it took a while for the wheels to get going. The consistent thing though was the style of play Columbus was using. From last season to this season, the philosophy hasn't changed. Roll 4 lines. Get in the face of the opponent. Make it tough on them. Get great goaltending. Win games. They did this well last season in the much tougher Western Conference. Now that we have our big players back, we are starting to see the same thing unfold right before our very eyes. Only this time, the competition isn't nearly as hard. (Every night is tough, I'm just highlighting the fact of West vs East.)
The kind of game that the Jackets play is a winning formula. A team cannot just focus on one line. They have 4 lines that must be accounted for. That is why one can't get concerned too much if a certain line isn't producing. That normally means some other line is having success. This kind of game is prevalent in the Western Conference! And that's my point. Last season playing an exclusive West schedule has helped the Jackets this season play the kind of game they need to play to win late in the season, and in the playoffs. They enjoyed success last year. It will now springboard them into annual trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs. So thanks to a lockout, and a switch in conferences, the Jackets are now in position to show that last season's run was not a one year wonder. They will be a force in the NHL for many years to come.