Trusting system key to strong December for CBJ

It’s probably safe to say the Blue Jackets were relieved to see November fade into December as they winged their way from Boston back to Columbus early Sunday morning, following the 3-1 Saturday night loss to the Bruins.

And it’s easy to understand why. The season’s busiest month so far was not kind to the Blue Jackets, who compiled a record of 5-8-3 in November and now have gone nearly six weeks without winning back-to-back games. In their last eight games, the Jackets have won and lost in alternating fashion and been outscored 20-3 in the four defeats.

Granted, it was a tough month for the Blue Jackets, and it wasn’t just the schedule. Along with the 16 games in 30 days, they played in nine different cities and three different time zones. The team also has been dealing with a rash of injuries to key players. In that context, the 5-8-3 mark isn’t as bad as it seems on the surface. 

But even with a lighter December schedule and some players returning from injury, isn’t it crazy to think by doing more of the same, following the same script, the Blue Jackets can expect different results? Not according to Mark Letestu, who believes that’s exactly what his team needs to do to turn this season around.

“I think it’s sticking with it,” he said of the best way to get the team back on a winning track.  “You just have to trust the systems, trust the coaching staff, that they’re doing what’s in the best interest for them as well as us, which is winning hockey games. Everybody here is working together to win. 

“I think it’s a matter of buying in fully, kind of putting personal goals and statistics aside and buying into a common goal. When everybody wins, it’s something special to be a part of, rather than an individual successful season.”

After the game in Boston Saturday, head coach Todd Richards said he wasn’t completely happy with the team’s battle level against the Bruins, who extended their home unbeaten streak to 11 games with the win over Columbus. For a team whose self-professed identity is never to be outworked, Letestu agrees that’s one element of the Blue Jackets’ approach that does need to change.

“It’s obviously something we want to correct,” he said. “It’s not always an effort thing; I think the effort’s there most nights, the guys’ willingness to work. But sometimes it’s getting to battles and just coming out with pucks, and right now we’re not coming out with as many pucks as we’d like.

“It’s as much about execution,” he continued, “knowing your systems, making plays in certain areas to allow people to get to work, whether it’s maybe making the correct dumps on forechecks or being back to support defensemen on breakouts. Doing it right allows everybody to be better and to win more battles.”

While the team may be relieved November is now a memory, the reality is — with one-third of the season already gone — the Blue Jackets are on the outside looking in when it comes to playoff positioning.

Is Letestu worried about the season slipping away? Is he focused on the standings?

“You look at ’em,” he noted. “You don’t want to dig yourself a big hole; we learned that lesson last year. At the same time, we’re a hot week away from being in a playoff position. The East has kind of struggled compared to the West, and we’re still in it. I think we’re fortunate for that, and we should probably take the reins here and get ourselves back into a position.”

Now, that’s definitely not a crazy notion. Not at all.