Imagine putting your heart and soul into something and not being able to see it through to its completion.
Now you know how the Columbus Blue Jackets offense has felt much of this season. Sure, there have been some nights the team’s commitment to winning puck battles hasn’t been quite what it should, but for the most part this is a group that’s been dedicated to a strong forecheck, extended offensive zone possession and creating quality scoring chances. It just hadn’t been seeing the fruition of its hard work. It simply hadn’t been scoring enough goals. Until, that is, Monday’s impressive 6-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.
And that stretch of offensive frustration was no more painfully obvious than it was in the home loss to Edmonton just a night before, when the Blue Jackets outshot the Oilers 40-14 and somehow limped into the locker room with a 3-1 loss. No doubt Edmonton goalie Devan Dubnyk was a big part of shutting down the Columbus offense, but that was only part of it. The Blue Jackets were pressing offensively, and the next morning Nick Foligno said this kind of prolonged scoring slump can run through the locker room like a rampant flu bug.
“Absolutely, it’s contagious,” said the Blue Jackets winger. “I mean, you see it. If guys are scoring and it’s different guys stepping up every night, it’s allowing you to win games. Right now we have to find that. We have to find ways to get goals from different guys.”
Just a few hours later, Foligno and his teammates would indeed find ways.
Opposing coaches have gone out of their way to compliment the Blue Jackets hard-working style this season. Although consistency has been an issue in some of the team’s games, Columbus has been carving out an identity as a blue-collar team that’s difficult for the opposition to handle most nights. But hockey is a cruelly bottom-line business, and all the hard work and kudos in the world won’t generate points in the standings or erase the angst and disappointment of a loss. On the contrary, the losses undoubtedly feel even more bitter when the team knows it’s outplayed an opponent, only to come up empty because of its offensive woes. That’s why the convincing win over the Sharks was so important.
“You see our forecheck and how we’re generating a lot of our scoring chances around the net with our forechecking efforts and cycling efforts,” Foligno noted before the win over San Jose. “That’s going to allow you to get offensive opportunities, and it really frustrates the other team. I think we all know that it’s around the net that we have to score our goals. We’re getting there; we just have to bear down harder. I think if we’re doing the right things on a consistent basis, night in and night out, we’re going to see ourselves winning a lot more games.”
He couldn’t have been more right. From the relentless work by Brandon Dubinsky in the game’s first minute that led to the Blue Jackets 1-0 lead, to the final horn, Columbus was the more physical and more committed team Monday night against San Jose.
And the timing couldn’t have been better. Foligno admitted it’s been a little tiresome hearing about his team’s inability to finish the job around the opponent’s net.
“No one wants to hear about that,” he laughed. “You’d much rather have everything go in, but that’s not the case sometimes. It’s a great league, and there are a lot of great goaltenders. We have to know that when we have opportunities to make sure we find a way, whether it’s third or fourth efforts, or even more whacks at it to try and get that puck in the back of the net.”
Whatever it takes. That’s the desperation mode the Columbus Blue Jackets found themselves in as they continue to try to figure out how to finish what they’ve started in their opponents zone. There’s no better payoff for a relentless forecheck and work ethic than to pour pucks into the opponent’s net and skate away with two points. It’s the ultimate result for all that hockey hard work, and the Blue Jackets found a way to get it against San Jose.