A tale of two teams
What a difference four days can make. Last Saturday morning, the Blue Jackets were the hottest team in the NHL and sitting third in the Metro Division. Then came the games against Buffalo, Carolina and Ottawa. Three games in four days, a schedule that every team has to endure.
After winning eight consecutive games and outscoring their opponents 33 -- 17, they have been outscored themselves 11 -- 6. Over the last three games, they have run into a hot goalie (Buffalo's Ryan Miller) and let their foot off the gas in Carolina. Against the Senators, some might have forgotten there was a game to be played. For those that did show up, their start was sluggish and slow.
"It took a long time", said head coach Todd Richards. "Some guys still aren't going and we played sixty minutes. To me, that's it right there."
After finding ways to win games recently, the players have seemingly lost their focus. The mantra of hard work fell by the wayside. Many fans have "joined the battle" over the course of 53 games. Against Ottawa, there were too many players that were missing in action.
"We're a good team when we have 18 skaters going. We were missing too many tonight", said Richards.
"Every team has to deal with travel. Every team has to deal with the rigors of the NHL. If you don't have the energy that you have on some nights, which is going to happen, you've just got to play the game smarter and you've got to manage it."
"But, you need everyone going. You need that competitiveness and that want (to win). And again, we didn't have it from everyone tonight. We're in a dogfight. That's really what it is right now with 29 games left. But to come out and play like this, not a lot of energy early on, we were missing too many players."
From showing that their maturity level was on the rise in the first two-thirds of January, they've seemingly regressed. Brandon Dubinsky addressed this succinctly after the game.
"These last couple games, it's about maturity", he said. "I'm not saying maturity because we're young. To come out and have a great start and a two goal lead in Carolina, we backed off. We thought it was going to be easy. We thought we were better than we were and it came back to bite us. Tonight, we weren't ready to start the game. Our first period was awful. They beat us to all of the pucks and won all the races."
"The reason I use the word maturity," Dubinsky continues, "is because we win eight games in a row and get ourselves in a great position in the standings. And instead of having that killer instinct, that mentality of we're going to keep finding ways to win, we take a step backwards. Good teams don't do that."
"We have to understand that every single game is important. No game is ever going to be easy for the Columbus Blue Jackets. We don't have the guys. We don't have that type of team. So, we've got to be ready to play sixty (minutes) every night, from start to finish."
Dubinsky hit the nail on the head about Columbus, as a team. "Youth is never an excuse. We're all professionals and in the NHL for a reason. At any level, (the players) have been through this before, whether it's junior teams or college teams. We're NHL'ers now."
The desire and the will is within each of the payers on this roster. They have shown that they can win games. They have proven that they can outwork teams on a nightly basis. Why then, does a game like this happen? Although they are a young team, there are guys in the room that have years of experience at this level of play.
The U.S. Navy SEAL's have a motto that is very appropriate for this club, "The only easy day was yesterday." They cannot believe that they can rest on their laurels of winning eight consecutive games. They have to go out and prove, night after night, that they are good enough. Through hard work and perseverance, they will rise in the standings and gain respectability around the league.
They can stop the bleeding of a three game losing streak on Thursday, when the Washington Capitals pay a visit to the friendly confines. Although tied in points with 56, Columbus has more regulation/overtime wins than Washington and occupies fifth place in the division. In the ultra-tight Metro, every game and every point is important in determining the fate of the Blue jackets.