With all of the injuries to have befallen the Blue Jackets in a short amount of time, it’s easy to forget that they have only played nine games. They still have, at the very least, 4,380 minutes of hockey to play. To put it simply, with 73 games to go, pushing the panic button now may be a bit premature.
The organization has touted its depth going into the season and now it is being severely tested. Nine regular players are not in the lineup, although that number could go down by one for the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Nick Foligno, after being stretchered off the ice on Sunday with a neck "stinger" looks to make his return tonight. Matt Calvert, on Injured Reserve since last Friday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, could return as soon as Saturday versus the New Jersey Devils. Boone Jenner, out since training camp after having surgery on a broken hand, might get back into the lineup as soon as next week.
But until that time when they do return, the youngest team in the NHL is looking to tread water. As of Friday morning, they are in seventh place (4-5-0, 8 pts) in the Metropolitan Division, just five points back from the first place Pittsburgh Penguins.
Forwards Brian Gibbons and Sean Collins were recalled from the club’s AHL-affiliate Springfield Falcons on Thursday. Both can play the center position, which has been hit pretty hard with the rash of injuries.
The guys in the room don’t talk of just treading water though. To them, they’ve identified the issues and are holding themselves accountable for playing a 60-minute game each night. Other than the game against the Ducks, they have played some decent hockey. It’s the mental lapses that have hurt them, allowing their opponents to take advantage.
"We’ve just got off our game plan way too easily," said defenseman Dalton Prout. "We have the bare bones of a system that should give us a fighting chance every night. I know it can and I believe in the guys that are in the room, no matter who it is. But, we got deterred from that too easily (against Ottawa)."
The first step is identifying where the problem lies. They have done that and are searching for a solution to getting a full 60 minutes out of everyone. Having the plethora of injuries does not help in the quest for smoother sailing.
"This is a little bit more than you envision when you start off the year," said head coach Todd Richards. "Everyone talks about injuries and you’re going to have injuries. You just have to deal with them and it tests the depth of your roster.
"Well, this is really testing the depth of our organization," he continued, "with this many guys out. But, there are no excuses. You have to find a way to win a hockey game. We were down some players against Ottawa (Tuesday) and it was a 2-2 hockey game in the third period, and we didn’t manage it the right way."
Minimizing the opportunities they give the opposition is paramount in cleaning up their play. They know the system that Richards has in place is one that has earned them success in the past. Focusing on that, coupled with proper execution, will earn them success moving forward. They don’t want to just tread water. They want to win every game.
"As the year goes on, points get harder and harder to come by," Prout said. "I think the tenacity and the competition rises that much more, all the way to the playoffs. That’s what we expect. We expect to battle every night on the ice and we’re never going to back down."
Players get injured and new faces slot into the lineup. This is a fact of life in the NHL and happens throughout the season. It’s how the team responds to the adversity facing that marks whether they are in the playoff conversation when April rolls around.
Despite the depth of injuries plaguing them now, they are still focused on being in the playoffs. That goal has never wavered, nor should it if they want the respect of the rest of the league. Many call them upstarts still.
The only way to change that perception is to go out and win, proving that they are legitimate. The belief is there, within the room. With some players set to make their return, their fortunes could be changing for the better.