Columbus Blue Jackets' Nick Foligno (71)celebrates a goal with teammates Ryan Johansen (19) and Scott Hartnell (43)(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)
Seven games into this young season, the Blue Jackets are 4-3-0 and stand middle of the pack in the muddy Metropolitan Division. At times, they’ve shown resolve and dug down deep to win. For the most part, they’ve beaten the teams that they should have beat.
And yet, there is still the nagging question of slow starts and not playing a complete 60 minute game. While it’s exciting to watch, chasing the game over the grind of an 82 game season will leave you with nothing left in the tank for a playoff run.
This team has a penchant for chasing the game and making it interesting. The refrain heard last season was one of learning how to win. This year, it has become one of learning to respect the win.
And while a seven game stretch is not really enough to form a trend, a recurring pattern has emerged over the last three games to serve notice that a change is needed. Beginning in Ottawa, and continuing through the game in Anaheim, they’ve spotted their opponents two goals in each game.
They almost made up the deficit against the Senators, losing 3-2. They came from behind to beat the San Jose Sharks 5-4 and lost 4-1 versus the Ducks.
They played well in Ottawa, with coach Todd Richards liking what he saw out of his team. They played San Jose on Thursday after arriving in California on Monday. Still, they got off to a slow start and let the Sharks control the pace of the game in the first period.
They pushed back and began playing the game to their liking. After once again chasing the game, they were rewarded with 20.7 seconds remaining in the third period on a David Savard shot that was redirected by Mark Letestu.
In the second game of a back-to-back against Anaheim, they played far less than 60 minutes. After coming out flat, they showed a spark in the latter stages of the first period. After that, it all seemed to be downhill for them.
Tired legs, non-crisp passing and turnovers hurt them all night long. The Ducks are arguably the hottest team in the league at the present time and Columbus had no answer for them. They were outskated, outshot (34-17) and gave up two power play goals on ten Anaheim power plays, after giving up only one power play goal in the previous six games.
Why are they not playing the way that they have shown they are capable of playing? Yes, they’re missing Brandon Dubinsky (abdomen), Boone Jenner (hand) and Ryan Murray (knee) from the lineup. But, they’ve played through injured players and adversity before.
"It’s the guys in the room," coach Todd Richards said after the loss to Anaheim. "It’s part of their job of being a pro. It’s my job, too. Some of that does fall onto my plate in getting them ready to play. Maybe I have to do more, do some different things to make sure that they’re ready to go."
At the outset of this west coast trip, it was said that if they returned to Columbus having gone 2-1-0, it would be considered a success. That belief still holds true.
For the final game of the trip on Sunday, they face the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. If the Blue Jackets are not ready to go, it will make for a long game and an even longer flight back to Columbus.
"We’re going to face another really good hockey team," said Richards, "another hungry hockey team. They’re a team that’s going to play big and physical. We better be ready to jump right in on it. And if we don’t, we’re going to end up chasing the game."
For a team that has talent and had very little roster turnover, it’s inexplicable that these issues continue to plague them. It was thought that the rollercoaster ride was a thing of the past. Although the highs and lows are not as drastic, that up-and-down ride is still here.
"It’s the NHL and teams are too good," said defenseman Jack Johnson. "We can’t be spotting teams two goal leads; it’s just not going to work. You’ll come back from it once in a while. But more often than not, you’re going to lose that one. But, we’re going to regroup and look forward to coming out Sunday."
And as the saying goes, the hits keep coming. It’s unsure if Cam Atkinson will be able to play after catching the skate of Anaheim’s Ryan Kessler in the face. Judging by the photos posted online, his right eye appears almost swollen shut. The good news is that there was no damage to the eye itself.
Adversity has a way of finding this team and hitching a ride. They’ve shown the resolve to get through tough times as recently as last Thursday in the win over San Jose.
Can they make the necessary changes to get their game on an even keel? Only the guys in the room know the answer to that question. It’s up to them to step up. Their time is now.