Sunday, March 23, 2014

Every game matters

Imagine for just a moment that the Columbus Blue Jackets had just 2 more points in the standings.

That would put them at 80 points.  Not only that, it would put them in the playoffs as of today.  Instead of that however, they have 78 points, and would be out of the playoffs as of today.  Now think about this.  The Jackets have a record which includes 29 non-OT losses.  Even if just one of those losses was a win, that would be enough to put the Jackets in the playoffs as of today.  Now think about last year.  If the Jackets had 2 more points (heck, even just 1 more point), they would have been in the playoffs. 

The above proves one universal truth in hockey:  Every game matters!  It doesn’t matter if the game is in October or April, or anywhere in between, every game matters.  It doesn’t matter if you are safely in the playoffs, fighting for the playoffs, or are out of the playoffs, every game matters. 

It is really amazing to me how many people talk about games that don’t matter.  For instance, when two teams play late in the year that are out of the playoffs, you hear it said that the game doesn’t matter.  Or think of when an East team plays a West team in October.  You hear it said that losing doesn’t matter as much.  Or even more, going to overtime, and losing the game.  You then hear it said that losing that point to the other conference doesn’t matter as much. 

Sigh.  How is it possible that a game doesn’t matter?  No matter what the situation is, the game matters.  It may matter for different reasons, many of which a casual fan may not think of, but it still matters.  Let’s explore some different scenarios, and we will see why every game matters.

Scenario 1 – Random scenario, game 20 of the season.  You are playing against a team in the other conference.  The game is tight checking all the way, but you lose a heartbreaker 1-0.  You had many chances to score, including 0 for 7 on the Power Play.  Now, your season is over. You missed the playoffs by 2 points.  I know you can look at any game, but in this example, if you click on just one of those power plays, the game could have ended up different.  Point being, what you do in game 20 (or any game) can and will dictate if you make the playoffs. 

Scenario 2 – Same as scenario 1, except you get to overtime, and you get a point.  Then you lose in the overtime.  That one point is the very thing that could keep you from the playoffs. This cannot be understated. 

The above scenarios dictate those in the playoff picture.  Now let’s look at those not in the playoffs.

Scenario 3 – It is Game 80. Two teams are playing that are out of playoff contention.  Many will look at this game and say it doesn’t matter.  On the contrary, you learn a lot about teams and players as result of these games.  First, you get a chance to see who plays hard when there isn’t as much on the line.  These are the kind of players you want playing for you.  Those not playing as hard do stick out in these kinds of games.  If they don’t play hard now, chances are, they don’t play as hard when things do get difficult later.  You get a good glimpse of character in these kinds of games.  And trust me, many watch these games.  Higher ups watch, the media watches, fans watch.  Games like this might not matter in the standings, but the impact of these games can be felt in future years.  A player’s performance can be a determining factor in deciding if they will be on a roster the following year.  The game may seem small at the time, but don’t underestimate the impact.

Now that you see that every game matters for a different reason, let’s apply this to the current state of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I’m writing this as of 8pm on Sunday March 23rd.  At this moment, the Jackets have 78 points.  Those 2 extra points would mean we are in the playoffs if the season were to end today.  So, given how close the standings are, there is a very good chance that the Jackets will either be in or out of the playoffs by 2 points or less.  So that October game we should have won and didn’t, yep, it mattered. 

Let’s look at today’s game against the Islanders for a second.  Jackets lost 2-0.  The Islanders are basically looking ahead to next year.  But it doesn’t mean the game is meaningless for them.  They have players that are showing that they want to be on a roster next year.  They are literally playing for their hockey lives.  That is why it can be very dangerous to play a team like the Islanders late in the year.  They don’t have the pressure the Blue Jackets have.  They already know they are out of it.  So they can just play loose and see what happens.  They can be more aggressive.  When this happens against a team who is struggling with confidence, then games like this can happen.  But it is a perfect representation of scenario 3.  And in addition, when a team has a chance to knock someone else out of the playoffs, there’s more motivation to play. 

Yes, today was definitely frustrating.  But, the season is far from over.  No matter what ends up happening down the stretch, it is still a great day to be a Blue Jackets fan.  There are 11 games left.  No matter where the Jackets are in the standings, each game will matter for some reason.  There will be always something to watch for.  If team does well, the players who rise to the occasion will stand out.  If the team doesn’t do well, the reasons for that will stand out. 

Every game matters.  That will never change.

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