Let’s set the stage for you, shall we? It was very early in the morning on October 24. The game against San Jose ended just after 1 a.m. Eastern Time. Those west coast road trips always made for some late-night game watching in Columbus.
Now, let’s be honest. Who was awake and watched the Blue Jackets when they last won a game? That improbable 5-4 victory came at the SAP Center, aka the Shark Tank, and was a long 18 days ago. In the interim, the team has been on a downward trajectory punctuated by earning one point from a possible 16 available.
This culminated Saturday evening in a 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on home ice. Consequently, the door to the dressing room was kept closed to the media longer than usual for a players-only meeting immediately after the game ended.
This is a crucial time for the team. If they are not able to right the ship and get their game on an even keel, the hole being dug will be that much more difficult to climb out of. The frustration that comes with an eight-game losing streak is becoming more evident with each loss.
Nick Foligno, stretchered off the Staples Center ice two weeks ago, has done almost everything he can to help the team get back in the win column. He embraces the Blue Jackets identity and is one of the core-group of leaders within the room. He didn’t mince his words about the crossroads the team is at in regards to the run of eight consecutive losses.
"We’re reacting to everything," he said. "We’re not a team that initiates and it’s costing us games. And right now, point blank, it’s costing us almost the season. It’s really frustrating."
As of Monday morning, Columbus sits in 15th in the conference standings, eight points behind the 8th place Ottawa Senators for the final playoff position. Has this become an insurmountable task to make up that much ground? Not yet, but it’s getting closer.
At this point, treading water will no longer do. Despite the depleted ranks of injured players, it’s time to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and go on a winning tear. They’ve shown they can play to their identity, and their last win over the Sharks proved that. It’s the consistency of effort and doing the right things the right way that will get them success.
"Looking back, we have to take the positives and build on them," said Boone Jenner. "We don’t have time to dwell on a loss. The things we did well, we want to build on. And the things we didn’t do well, we want to learn from and make better."
The 21-year-old Jenner has been back in the lineup for three games after having surgery on his left hand October 1. He’s been playing on a line with Scott Hartnell and both have a nose for the dirty area in front of the net. They play a similar game and are seeing some initial chemistry develop between them.
The steady stream of players getting a two minute rest in the penalty box is one area that he knows they have to better at. They’ve taken 20 penalties over the last three games which is taxing their ability to get a flow going to each game.
"Limiting penalties is something we want to be better at," Jenner said. "We need to be better with our sticks and better with our skates; everyone moving their feet and trying that much harder to stay out of the box. That’s something that we want to focus in on."
Focus is something that they, collectively, have not done recently. Mental lapses, hesitation and poor decision making are adding up the sticks being gripped that much tighter as they search for a way to break the losing cycle.
"Each individual in here, we know our role and we have to play to our role," concluded Jenner. "We have to play our system and play together. That’s what it comes down to. We have to worry about what our effort is instead of keying in on the opposition."
The key words from Jenner are "play together". There has been individual effort, but getting their mindset back to an "us against them, team first" attitude strikes to the core of what earned them success in the past.
Did the player-only meeting on Saturday have the desired effect? Only time will have the answer to that question. But time is something that is starting to slip through their fingers. Wading into games will not get them the results that they desire. It’s time for them to make a statement.
Il nous faut de l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace! – Georges Danton
The players had Sunday off and get right back to work today in preparation of traveling to Washington for a game Tuesday versus the Capitals.