Washington Capitals' Michael Latta (46) and Columbus Blue Jackets' Ryan Johansen (19) look for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
They ended the evening against the Capitals with yet another loss and dropped their record to 4-10-1. It seems so straightforward to say that the Blue Jackets are a bad team. And yet, there are myriad reasons for what has been seen through 15 games.
Prior to Tuesday night’s tilt in Washington, the team had 93 man games lost to injury. While this is a high number so early in the season, it’s the quality of the players that are injured that is not so easily replaceable. While the organization is deeper than it has ever been, no one ever anticipated that they would be playing with what is essentially half of an AHL team.
Usually, when a player gets injured, his replacement comes into a room that is still stocked with regulars. The guys in the room can cover for him as he gets up to speed playing in the NHL. But when almost half of the players that are injured are your starters, the NHL experience level is drastically reduced with real consequences.
Before the start of the season, the Blue Jackets were considered a strong team that would contend for one of the top spots in the Metropolitan Division. The lineup, on paper, was one of the strongest seen in Columbus and expectations were high. Then, the injuries started to pile up.
While everyone from head coach Todd Richards down to the players say that injuries are not an excuse, the sheer quantity in such a short time-frame begs to differ. A team cannot take that many starters out of the lineup due to injury and expect to play at the same level as they would with a healthy roster.
The expectations have to be ratcheted down to a reasonable level, given the makeup of the team at this point. That’s not to say that the guys replacing the injured starters are bad players. It’s just that with so many, they can’t be looked at in the same way as the team was looked at on Sept. 1.
Noah Webster’s classic dictionary defines luck as "a purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable force that shapes events favorably or unfavorably for an individual, group or cause."
No matter whether you want to believe in luck or not, it plays a role for every team. A puck bouncing over a stick, for example, can be either good luck or bad luck depending on which team that happens to. Getting that bounce to go their way has not happened all that much this season for the Blue Jackets.
"We need something," said Todd Richards after the game, "we need some puck luck."
With the losing streak sitting at nine games, there is a very real possibility that a feeling of impending dread could creep into the minds of the players. When the Capitals scored their fourth goal in the third period, you could see the Blue Jackets were deflated by it. Up to that point of the period, they had been playing to their identity of getting the puck deep and coming at Washington in waves.
Creating their own luck is something that Todd Richards has they need to do. Yes, that entails playing to their strengths and staying focused. But, this is much easier said than done, with the makeup of the team at this point.
"We have to make our own puck luck," Richards said. "We have to create our own positive bounces and fortuitous bounces. We did some of that (Tuesday) by working and competing."
Luck is not something that can be controlled, but it can possibly be influenced. It’s easy to look at things in black and white and say that this team is a bad team. But, the reality is that there are many shades of grey.
There were stretches of the game that they played in a way that has become synonymous with their identity. That is a positive to be taken with them as they move forward. There were other facets of the game where they got away from that identity. This, too, is a lesson that will go with them.
Maybe it’s time to bring the expectations down a notch or two, at least until they get some of those starters back in the lineup. Are they playing bad hockey right now? The answer to that is no. The more fickle see the 4-10-1 record as indicative of a bad team. Inherently, they are not that bad.
And that is thing to remember when you look at the team. Taking all the variables, including bad luck, into account will give one a more realistic outlook on the Blue Jackets. Then again, "fan" is short for fanatic. And unreal expectations will only end in heartache.
The Blue Jackets play the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. The puck drops at 7 p.m.