Home cooking

You don't have to be a fan of the Wizard of Oz to know that there's no place like home. That's been true so far this season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and if it stays that way, the CBJ will be in pretty good shape two weeks from now.

The Blue Jackets have gained 5 of a possible six points in three road games since the NHL All-Star break and tonight will begin a franchise-record 7-game home stand.

That promises good things for the Jackets as they try to make up a seven-point deficit on first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division.

The Capitals have been setting a scorching pace, getting points in 18 of their last 19 games, going 16-2-1 over that stretch.

The Jackets have cooled since their 16-game winning streak, playing slightly-less-than-.500 hockey at 7-8-1 overall.

Things have picked up lately, though, with a win at New York, an overtime loss at Pittsburgh and an overtime win on Tuesday at Detroit.

That leaves the Jackets with 34 victories -- as many as they had all of last season -- with still 30 games to play.

And with 73 points overall, the Blue Jackets are the third-best team in the league as they prepare to take on Vancouver at the start of this crucial homestand.

Coach John Tortorella's club has gone 18-6-1 at Nationwide this season. That's a good record, but not great, given the Blue Jackets have won only twice in regulation in seven home games since their extended winning streak.

One of the reasons for the downturn has been the diminished results from the Jackets power play, which was No. 1 in the league, but now ranks third.

One of the more productive players on the power play early, Sam Gagner, hasn't scored a goal since Dec. 23.

The Blue Jackets desperately need him to get back involved with the man advantage.

Of course, you have to gain a power play in order to score on the power play, and that's been a problem all year.

The Blue Jackets have had just 145 power plays in 52 games, which is the second-fewest opportunities in the league.

The Blue Jackets have gained the man advantage only five times in their last five games, and in three of those games they haven't gotten even one power play chance.

Some of that is on the guys in the striped shirts and some of it is on the CBJ for failing to force the issue.

“We have to work to earn some power plays, for sure,” Gagner said. “The focus has to be moving our feet, being aggressive, possessing the puck and making the other team defend. We can do a better job of that, and that's when you start getting those calls."

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky's save percentage has suffered, too, since the 16-game winning streak ended.

It's hard to know exactly how much of that is Bob and how much of it is the Blue Jackets recent penchant for leaving opponents unfettered in front of the net.

Tortorella has harped on the importance of his guys giving more effort as the urgency to win ramps up across the league.

Unfortunately, the effort on defense hasn't been there consistently enough, but that's not the fault of All-Star defenseman Seth Jones.

The 22-year-old has raised his level of play lately after making his first trip to the NHL's mid-season showcase in LA.

Jones scored the game-winning overtime goal in the 3-2 win at Detroit on Tuesday. He now has three goals, eight points and 24 shots in his past seven games and he's contributed 17 points in 24 games since mid-December.

The second-line of Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner and Cam Atkinson has also been hot lately. They accounted for all three goals at Detroit and Dubinsky had a pair of assists.

That win kept the Blue Jackets distinction as only team in the NHL without a three-game losing streak at any point in the season.

That consistency is paying off at the box office and in television ratings.

While 12 NHL teams have experienced ratings declines from last season, the Blue Jackets viewership has more than doubled.

You can say, sure, that makes sense, they're winning. But in Anaheim, which is bound for the playoffs, TV ratings are down 46 percent.

The Jackets are one of only nine teams in the league whose ratings have increased, and no team can match the Jackets' 110% growth in television viewers compared to 2015-16.

By contrast, the Minnesota Wild, which has a slightly better record than the CBJ, have increased their TV ratings by just 23 percent this season.

Rest assured, if this home stand goes well, Blue Jackets fever will only intensify, perhaps to the point where the CBJ will steal some of the headlines away from the defending NBA champion Cavaliers as winter turns to spring and the regular season gives way to the playoffs.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

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