For the Blue Jackets, the hole got a little deeper
Columbus, Ohio – Forty-eight hours ago, head coach Todd Richards opened his post-game remarks after losing to the Montreal Canadiens by saying the way they lost that game bothered him. The effort and discipline were lacking that night.
Fast-forward to Friday night and the Blue Jackets were facing another team they are attempting to chase down, this time their divisional foe, the New York Rangers. There was a better effort and a return to playing the game the right way. And despite playing a more consistent, smarter game, they wound up on the short end of the final tally, losing 2-1.
"I really liked the first period," said Richards. "I thought there was great energy, pursued pucks, created a lot of turnovers and had some opportunities. In the second period, we got away from our game and became a little bit undisciplined, giving up three-on-twos. The third period we were maybe a little sluggish. But once we found our legs and scored the goal, it gave us some life."
Facing the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes didn’t make their night any easier, as they put 36 shots on goal while he only allowed one to get past him. New York managed 26 shots on Sergei Bobrovsky.
"We did some good things. I thought the guys, for a majority of the game, played hard. They tried to do the right things. When we’re able to go out and execute and so those things, we can have some success. It wasn’t the result, but we did some good things."
And while looking at the positives that were on display Friday, the fact that they didn’t get two points against a divisional opponent higher than them in the standings hurts. It’s that time of the year when many teams are ramping up their play on the ice in preparation of the playoffs. Conversely, the Blue Jackets had to play at a playoff level beginning December 1.
"You look at these points that we just said ‘good-bye’ to," said Scott Hartnell, "it does hurt. We’re going to have to go two months like we did in December (10-1-1) to have a chance, because everyone’s playing well and everyone’s getting points. We have to prepare for war every night and it’s not going to be easy."
Nothing worth having is ever easy, and these guys know that. Their identity demands that they play with a controlled amount of tenacity while staying disciplined during the games. ‘Blue Jackets hockey’ is a ballet of tenacious forechecking, quick, accurate transitions up the ice and getting the puck deep while keeping possession. They’ve shown they can achieve this symbiotic relationship in the past and that it breeds success.
But, and this is no excuse for their poor showing through 42 games, the plethora of injuries put them far enough behind the eight-ball that reaching a playoff position by April 11 (Game 82) is on the magnitude of climbing Mount Everest and succeeding on your first attempt, with no help. Has the hole become too deep for them to crawl out of this season?
"I haven’t really looked at the standings," Hartnell said, "so I don’t really know how far we’re out. We’ve got to play and beat teams… we have to win a lot of games. We know what we’re up against. We’ve got to be great every night. That’s what we talk about; play the system, playing together and playing hard."
They are 18-21-3 through 42 games and 15 points behind the two teams (New York Rangers, Boston Bruins) that occupy the wild card positions. Last year, it took 93 points to make the playoffs in a wild card spot. They have to earn 54 points over the final 40 games to equal the 93 points they had as the seventh (wild card) seed in the Eastern Conference last year.
Is this a tall order for this team to accomplish? The answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’. Has it become insurmountable at the midpoint of the season? No, but they have to win a lot of games down the stretch and maybe hope for a little help. If they go something along the lines of 23-9-8 the rest of the way, they may have a chance.
The Blue Jackets take on the Bruins in Boston Saturday night at 7 p.m. Be sure to catch the FOX Sports Ohio pregame show "Blue Jackets LIVE" beginning at 6:30 p.m.