By staying with the system, the Blue Jackets have turned into the NHLâ€™s hottest team.
By DAN KAMALFS Ohio
When you do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result, is that insane?
Not at all, especially if you’re a hockey team that believes in the system and believes in each other. Columbus winger Matt Calvert, who has the game-winning goals in two of the Blue Jackets last three wins, says the hottest team in the NHL took off on this torrid streak by never losing faith.
“I think the biggest thing is sticking with it,” said Calvert. “We knew we had to learn how to start winning and jell together as a team. We had a lot of new faces, and we’ve just kept it real positive in the room and kept doing the same things. We know what our strengths are as a team, and we keep preaching that, and I think the results are starting to show because we’re starting to do that for a full 60 minutes, night in and night out.”
Easy to say, right? But how does a team stick with it when it took until March 5 for the Blue Jackets finally to win two games in a row? How does a team stick with it when the record before this streak that has the attention of the entire NHL was 4-12-1 in the 17 games before the unbeaten run began?
“It’s tough,” Calvert admitted. “You have to do it as a whole group, right from the coaching staff to the goalies, and I think we stuck with it in the room. It says a lot about our leadership, because they always kept us positive. A guy like Vinny (Prospal), no matter what, even if you lose three in a row, he’s still preaching to us to stay hungry and stay positive and let’s get two points tonight. That’s a big plus. And I know from being a younger guy and starting to get a few years under my belt, you start to see what it takes to win. You watch some of these veteran leaders, and it’s a great learning experience.”
Leadership certainly has been influential in keeping the Blue Jackets together and helping key this turnaround that has Columbus back in the playoff discussion in the Western Conference. But the most important underlying factor in the willingness to stick with a system when the results aren’t there is a collective belief that the system is a good one. That’s really what kept the Blue Jackets unified through the weeks of losing.
“Yeah, you have to buy into the system to believe in it, and we have,” Calvert explained. “We did lose a lot of games in a row there, and we could have given up. But we stuck with it, and – you know – the losses were only by one goal, which is frustrating. At the same time, though, you know you’re that close, so we kept going, and now we have to do the things that are helping us win.”
So, we know the Blue Jackets believed in the system they were playing, and the leadership group kept the team pointed in the right direction, even when it very easily could have veered off course with all the losses piling up. But how did this hard-working group finally start to execute the plays it hadn’t been able to make consistently in the season’s first 19 games?
To be fair, this team had a lot of melding to do. From the goaltender position on out, there were a lot of new faces on the Blue Jackets. Blend in the lockout, the blink-twice-and-it’s-over training camp, and the lack of practice time in a shortened season, and it makes sense it would take time for this group to come together. It needed that time to develop maybe the most important component of any good NHL team – chemistry.
“It’s a big part of it,” said Calvert. “I know at the start of the year we were mixing and matching lines quite a bit there. We were playing well, playing hard, and I think everyone thought that, but we weren’t meshing together. The chemistry wasn’t quite there, and we weren’t getting the prime scoring chances necessarily, because you weren’t sure where your linemates were going to be. Night in night out you seemed to be with different guys, especially with the injuries we had. But now I think everyone is getting a feel for each other, and we’re having a lot of fun together and starting to play well.”
Columbus Blue Jackets are playing well, indeed. They’re unbeaten in seven straight and have won five in a row. And, to think, they did it by doing the same things over and over again, even when those things didn’t seem to be working.