Blue Jackets looking to play with pride down the stretch
The Columbus Blue Jackets wrap-up their final extended road trip Saturday afternoon in Calgary as they take on the Flames in the Scotiabank Saddledome. They beat in the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday in shootout 4-3 and shellacked the Vancouver Canucks Thursday 6-2.
This road trip has been a good one for them, to this point. Their goal differential is plus-five through the first two games, beating the Oilers and Canucks by a combined score of 10-5. Although they’ve given their opponents eight power plays, they have only allowed one power play goal. They are starting to reassert their identity that has been forged over the last few years.
"I think it’s starting to come back," Blue Jackets center Mark Letestu said from Vancouver on Friday. "You’re starting to see guys certainly play with pride now. We’re still mathematically able to get into the playoffs, but it’s very unlikely. And it’s nice to see guys not ‘packing it in’."
"I think we gave Vancouver, a good team, all they could handle and were rewarded for it. So, it’s good that we’re holding to that culture of working hard and battling. Hopefully that’s something that’ll carryover and we’ll see in the fall."
They could very easily have fallen into a ‘woe-is-me’ mentality in light of the adversity that has beset the club this season. Heading into the game with Calgary they have lost 457 man games due to injury.
Most recently, center Brandon Dubinsky returned to Columbus to have an aggravating upper-body injury checked out and defenseman Ryan Murray was held out of the Vancouver game with a lower-body injury. Center Alex Wennberg stayed behind in Vancouver, per FOX Sports Ohio play-by-play broadcaster Jeff Rimer, with an infected hand.
But there was some good news coming from Western Canada. The team activated center Boone Jenner and right wing Jeremy Morin off the Injured Reserve roster Friday evening, with Jenner likely to play Saturday versus the Flames.
This has been the season of many different players coming into the room and trying to fit-in. There has been little opportunity for chemistry to form among the players with such a high turnover of personnel. How does that affect the players that are there?
"It changes it a little bit," Letestu said, "as far as the personnel in the room. But I think the core values of what it means to be a Blue Jacket, the way we play the game, has always been consistent. I that whole part, that culture that we talk about, holds true. Usually it’s easier for players to kind of fall in line when there’s a defined culture in place. That helps a lot with the transition period."
The running joke, gallows humor if you will, is that almost all of the teams’ AHL-affiliate Springfield Falcons have suited up for the Blue Jackets this season. But that hasn’t stopped the guys from keeping the core values of the team intact and playing with pride.
Knowing that they are for all intents and purposes out of the playoffs this year has not dampened the spirit of the team. There have been many times this season where that spirit has been severely tested.
"It’s a long summer when you’re not in the playoffs. You want to finish strong and feel good about where we are as a team and the way that we’re playing. Obviously you won’t pick up in training camp exactly where you left off."
"I mean, we see a team like the (NY) Islanders miss the playoffs last year, come back and have a great year. So, I think there’s optimism there that we’re trying to get this going in the right direction going into the summer; that if we take care of ourselves and come into training camp ready, there will be a lot of success to come."
Over the remaining 11 games, the onus is on the team to play the right way and continually strive to get better. They’ve never won all three games of a road trip to Western Canada. They have the opportunity to do that Saturday if they beat Calgary. And this season, the road has been pretty good for them. But why are they better on the road than at home this year?
"It’s tough to put your finger on because there’s no excuse for the home record. We’ve obviously wanted to perform better than we have. But, I think on the road, teams tend to come pretty hard. They start really well, come fast and it forces you to play that simple game, whether that’s moving pucks quick or getting them deep. That’s closer to our identity."
"And it works when we stick to getting pucks in, getting on the forecheck and keeping the game simple between the blue lines. It seems to play into our hands and we have more success. I think playing on the road really exemplifies having to play that way."
Once again, they are rediscovering their identity. With the addition of Boone Jenner to the lineup, and his presence cannot be understated, they have a player returning that is part of their core moving forward. Playing ‘Blue Jackets hockey’ down the stretch is the goal. If they can do that, the long offseason will be a bit more palatable to take.
Programming Note: The Blue Jackets take on the Calgary Flames at 4:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Catch all the action beginning at 3:30 p.m. with the FOX Sports Ohio pregame show "Blue Jackets LIVE".