Four games into the season the Columbus Blue Jackets faced their first true test, when they hosted last season’s Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins.
Prior to the game, head coach Todd Richards said, “It’s a measuring stick. That’s the way I look at it. They were the best team to come out of the East last year. I think they improved their team.”
With the consistency and control with which Boston plays, this was a good early season test of where Columbus stands as a team. This was a heavy, “Western-style” game that the Blue Jackets should be used to, having played in the Western Conference since coming into the league.
“There are really no secrets, even if you don’t see them much,” Boston head coach Claude Julien said prior to the game. “The knowledge of what they do is there. I think it’s just getting a feel of playing against them. The more you play a certain team, the more you get comfortable with those games. That’s where both teams aren’t as comfortable, because they are not used to playing each other.”
The outcome showed the deficiencies in Columbus’ game as Boston took over late in the second period before going on to win 3-1, but there were positives to take from the loss.
The Columbus penalty kill stayed perfect, going 4-4 on the day and defenseman Jack Johnson scored his second power play goal of the season.
The top line of Marian Gaborik, Cam Atkinson and Brandon Dubinsky had another solid game, especially with their forecheck versus the visiting Bruins. They found out just how hard it is to score against a perennial playoff team.
“They’ve got a good team,” said Dubinsky. “They make it hard on you offensively, as far as how much time and space you have. They really clog things up and block a lot of shots.
“We (top line) didn’t come through with a goal, and that could have been the difference. Both teams were pretty patient. Obviously, they are things that we need to work on and get better at, such as our defensive zone coverage and our puck decisions. But, I’ll say it again, that’s a good team and they will get their chances. I thought we played physical throughout the 60 (minutes) and we made it hard on them. It was just a game of patience. They were able to get that second one (goal) and we weren’t.”
This loss was not a setback for the club. It was more of a learning curve, showing facets of their game that still need improvement. Forward Nick Foligno, like every other player in the room, doesn’t like losing, but he was honest with his assessment of what kind of test this game was and the lessons that they learned from it.
“I think it was a measuring stick, so to speak,” Foligno said. “Obviously they’re the conference champions for a reason. They are a consistent team and stick to their game plan. They capitalize when you let your foot off the gas a little bit. It’s a tough one because I felt that we did a lot of real good things. We went toe-to-toe with them, but couldn’t find that equalizer.
“We’re a tenacious team both ways on the forecheck and tracking back (defensively). It says a lot about the guys in here, understanding the type of team that we are. We’re a team that’s on our way to becoming a good team, then a great team. We have to make sure that we’re consistently doing those (good) things. That’s ‘Blue Jackets hockey,’ when you’re hard and tenacious on pucks. (Losing) is unfortunate because we had a few chances that we weren’t able to bury. I thought, for the most part, we played a pretty good game.”
The hallmark of good teams is taking a loss and learning from their mistakes. The mentality in the room is collectively positive. They want to get better and are never satisfied. The status quo just will not do. They are disappointed that they lost.
There are many in the Eastern Conference who might look at them as upstarts. They do not see themselves that way. Rather, they want to continue on the upward trajectory of becoming a consistent and proud team.
“We kind of knew what to expect (from Boston),” Johnson said. “We’re definitely not happy or satisfied by any means. We came into the game expecting to win and guys are not happy with the result, whatsoever. There were a lot of moments in the game that we were playing really well and doing what we wanted to do. At the end of the day, we just didn’t score enough goals. Scoring only one goal against a team like that, you’re probably not going to win.”
Through four games, the Blue Jackets are 2-2. They know that it’s a work in progress and are making strides in shoring up their deficiencies.
“We came out of the first period happy with the way that we competed,” Richards said. “(But) we started to do some undisciplined things, where they stuck to their game. That’s where they really test you.
“Being disciplined, forwards working back, managing the puck, I thought we did a fairly good job in the first period and got away from that in the second. We were better in the third. I like the way that we pushed in the third to try and get the equalizer. Again, they make it really hard on you. But it was that second period that we started to get away from the things that we had success with in the first period.”
Although early in the season, chalk this loss up as a game that they could have won. Columbus returns to action at 8 p.m. on Tuesday as they travel to Detroit to take on the Red Wings.
Forward Blake Comeau left Saturday’s game in the second period after suffering a lower leg cut from a skate blade. “We kept him out of the game as a precaution. He’ll see a doctor and be re-evaluated,” Richards said. Expect an update today on Comeau’s condition.
Foligno played in his 400th NHL game Saturday. He was traded to the Blue Jackets in 2012 from the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Marc Methot.
Defenseman Fedor Tyutin made his season debut against the Bruins, returning to the lineup after recovering from a lower-body injury. “I feel good,” he said. “I’m happy to be back and playing.”
After being a healthy scratch for the first three games of the season, defenseman Tim Erixon was assigned to Springfield, Columbus’ AHL affiliate. In two games over the weekend, he garnered 1-4-5 scoring line, helping the Falcons to two wins.