Despite loss to Pens, Blue Jackets making headway in division

After Sunday night's loss to the Penguins, the Blue Jackets have a record of 7-18-4.

Russell LaBounty/Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sport

After letting the game get away from them last night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus sits on a record of 17-18-4 (38 points). They currently sit in 6th place in jumbled Metropolitan Division. But, more so than their record would indicate, they are playing more consistently with each passing game.

They’ve been digging themselves out of the hole that was put in their way with their early season play. They are now hovering around the .500 mark, but know they have to get better. Earning six of a possible ten points over their last five games (all against divisional opponents) has helped.

"We’re starting to have that mindset that we had last year," said Nick Foligno, "where we’re playing our system and playing with structure. That’s what is allowing us to have success."

The rollercoaster ride of the earlier part of the season has settled into more of and undulation as they near the midpoint of the campaign. They are seeing the benefits of playing their game the right way. "I think that’s something that maybe wandered at the beginning of the year", Foligno said. "We tried to go on our own page and that wasn’t working."

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Sidney Crosby added the go-ahead goal and set up two other tallies to lead the Penguins past the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3 on Sunday night. READ MORE

"Now, we’re climbing out of the hole because we’re playing the right way. It’s showing in our game."

Instead of re-tooling their game, they are tweaking it. They still have facets of their game they need to be addressed. The parade to the penalty box last night was a case in point. By giving the league’s third best power play six chances, they were playing with fire.

"That’s really what it comes down to", said Foligno. "You can’t give a team with that much skill and that much talent those kinds of opportunities. You’ve got to make them work for it."

They controlled the flow of the game for long stretches, especially in the second period, by not getting away from their system. They had an aggressive fore-check that was creating turnovers and scoring chances.

"In the second period we did (control play)," he said, "and they didn’t have an answer for us. We really outplayed them. We had a really good start to the third and then we started taking penalties. It’s a part of the game and it’s a tough part. (We need to) stay disciplined against a good team. Against a team like that, who can make you pay, they showed it to us."

Although it was a loss, they look at this as part of learning how to win and can take some confidence from the way that they played. This goes into the collective memory banks of the club as they move into the latter half of the season.

"That’s what stings the most", Foligno said. "We felt that we played a real good game (sans penalties), good enough to win. Unfortunately, we took penalties and made mistakes. But for the most part, we outplayed a really good team. There are areas (of their game) that we need to improve on."

Even when they win, head coach Todd Richards is never satisfied. He sees that they are improving, as a whole, yet need to fine tune certain facets of their game. "For me, it was about cracking," he said, "and we cracked first. We were the team that broke first. We shot ourselves in the foot. We did it to ourselves."

He sees the consistency and "playing the right way" coming into their game. These are positive steps for a young club. By doing the right things, the right way, they give themselves a chance to win every night. "I thought for most of the game, we were doing the right things. We were playing the right game."

"When you give great players opportunities, more opportunities than they earned themselves, they’re going to bite you. That’s what happened. We fore-checked hard and created some turnovers. We had some opportunities to take the lead and weren’t able to capitalize. (Against) a good team, you give them a window, it doesn’t take a lot."

Richards is not looking back at what could have been. He’s using these games to help the guys understand what they need to do to be successful throughout an 82 game season. These are valuable lessons for the players as they gain more experience in the NHL.

"All we can do is move forward", Richards said. "We did some good things and hopefully we can learn from that. There are some things that we need to eliminate from our game. That’s got to be a learning point for us."

"The successful things we need to keep repeating and doing over. I think the speed of the game that we played at and our offensive zone play… we have to find ways to create more. But, we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot by taking the penalties that we did."

By taking the lessons learned from this, they can grow and be a more successful club. Fans can take solace in the fact they are more consistently playing the "right way", which bodes well for them moving forward.

Up next for the Blue Jackets is a New Year’s Eve tilt in the mile high air of Denver, as they take on the Colorado Avalanche. The puck drops at 8 p.m. (Eastern Time).

Short Shifts

– LW Blake Comeau played his 400th game in the NHL last night. He had one assist, three shots and six hits on the evening.

– RW Corey Tropp, claimed off waivers from the Buffalo Sabres in late November, had a highlight reel goal against the Penguins last night. In 11:17 TOI, he garnered 1-0-1 (+3) with 2 hits and 2 blocked shots.