Blue Jackets road woes easy to trace
We all knew this truncated hockey season was going to blaze by in a flash, so it’s no surprise the Columbus Blue Jackets just left the first third of their 2013 schedule in the rearview mirror with the 3-2 defeat in Anaheim Monday night.
The loss to the Ducks was the sixth in a row on the road for a Blue Jackets team that had started the season so impressively in a shootout win over the Nashville Predators in the Music City on January 19th. A month later, Columbus holds an overall record of 4-10-2 and has fallen seven points out of a playoff spot in the process. And the team has played 16 games, tied for most in the Western Conference through Monday, so there are no games in hand.
Where did it go awry after the promising start to the season, especially on the road? There’s no need to look much farther than the Blue Jackets offensive production, or lack thereof, during this woeful stretch away from Nationwide Arena. In the six straight road losses, Columbus has scored just nine goals, for an average offensive output of 1.5 goals per game.
Equally alarming is the lack of efficiency on the power play, which has registered just one goal in 23 attempts in the six-game road losing streak, for a success rate of just 4.3 percent. In the last three losses at L.A., Phoenix, and Anaheim, the power play is zero for ten, and the penalty kill has faltered as well, giving up four goals in 16 shorthanded situations. The lack of even strength and power play production and the dip in penalty killing success is putting too much pressure on the team’s goaltenders and defense. Actually, the Blue Jackets have been relatively sound in their own zone for much of this stretch, especially five on five; they just haven’t scored enough goals or had enough timely penalty kills to take advantage.
After the loss to the Ducks, in which the Blue Jackets spent significant stretches of time in the offensive zone and played well throughout most of the night, defenseman James Wisniewski spoke eloquently about this being the time to stop looking for silver linings in a losing effort and start focusing on the only thing that matters, winning.
In the same media scrum on FoxSports Ohio’s Blue Jackets Live post-game show, forward Matt Calvert talked about the process of winning and how it has to be learned by this young group. The way Calvert has played the last handful of games, it appears he’s trying to be a leader and not a follower when it comes to accelerating the process that leads to wins and not moral victories. He’s plus-four in his last six games, with two goals and two assists, and his speed, tenacity, and willingness to drive to the net have been very evident. In the last two games of the western swing, he had 11 shots on goal.
And he’s not alone. For the most part, these young Blue Jackets have manifested intensity, effort, and drive. The problem generally has been in the lack of consistently precise execution and lack of finish around the net. A spirited stretch of excellent hockey has too often led to no goals by Columbus and is then followed by an egregious error that seems inevitably to end up in the back of the Blue Jackets net. That’s been the blueprint for many of the road losses, and it’s a hallmark of a team that’s perhaps fragile and certainly hasn’t yet learned the process of winning.
But the glass is half full, even though the Blue Jackets sit in last place in the Western Conference. There are 32 games remaining in this shortened season, and to put it in baseball terms, this team is only three and a half games out. There’s still time.
Somebody just has to start hitting.