Are the Blue Jackets Problems Systemic?

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames get ready to drop the puck on White Out Night at Nationwide Arena (Photo by RG/The Hockey Writers)

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames get ready to drop the puck on White Out Night at Nationwide Arena (Photo by RG/The Hockey Writers)

By Rick Gethin


     “We’re not a team that knows how to play with the lead, yet” ~ Columbus captain Rick Nash


     Back at home after the longest road trip of the season that saw them drop four games in a row, the Blue Jackets were looking to rebound. Alas, it was not to be.

     In front of 17,772 fans dressed in white, Columbus went down to the Calgary Flames 4-3 SO. Both teams came out somewhat flat with the Flames scoring first early in the 2nd period. Columbus seemed to take control after that, with goals by Nash (15), Marc Methot (1) and Jared Boll (3). Ken Hitchcock said that the 4th line of Boll, Mike Blunden and Derek MacKenzie had “great energy” that kept the Blue Jackets going throughout the period. He said the 2nd period was a direct reflection of them energizing the team. At about the four minute mark of the 3rd period, Columbus started falling into the same patterns that have seen them lose the lead previously. The passing wasn’t crisp and the forecheck all but disappeared. Calgary came back to tie it at 3-3 in the 3rd with two quick goals.

     Overtime saw both teams with scoring chances, but none connected. The shootout went four rounds, with the Flames Jamie Lundmark netting the game winner. Up until the shootout, Columbus goalie Steve Mason had been solid, playing one of his better games in weeks. One-on-one in the skills competition, he seemed to move around quite a bit, letting in 3 of 4 shots. Said Hitchcock of Mason, “For me, he’s moving too fast; too many openings. Myself and Rooker (Dave Rook, CBJ goaltending coach) will talk to him. We’ll get it fixed.”

     The way this game played out is a recurring theme with this team. When they get the lead early, they don’t seem to want to put their skate on the throat of the opposing team and make sure they stay down. “We sit back too much,” said Rick Nash. “We just try to hold the lead and had no offense. We’re a young team that has to learn how to do that.” Blue Jackets fans have seen this movie before. Even though they garnered a point against a tired Flames team, this was a game that the Blue Jackets should have won.

     The conscience of the team, RJ Umberger, was very blunt about their play in the 3rd period. “We sat back and played dump and chase,” he said. “We didn’t keep the pressure on them. Two quick goals (by Calgary) are just lack of board battles in our zone. We lose them and they make quick plays. We also don’t cover our guys in front of the net. It’s kind of been the story of our season, so far.” The angst in Umbergers’ voice is almost palpable at times when he talks about a loss. “We’ve got to find a way to stop this,” Umberger said. “We’re shooting ourselves in the foot with some of our efforts here.”

     This loss makes it 5 in a row for a beleaguered Blue Jackets club. At this point, the lack of a veteran voice in the locker room is becoming self-evident. For reasons unknown, this young team seems to lose their focus almost game after game. For this club to make a legitimate run at the playoffs, this needs to be corrected now. There aren’t that many new faces in the room that chemistry should be an issue. But for the life of me, I can’t put my finger on what the main point of contention is. Ken Hitchcock needs this team to buy in completely to “Hitch Hockey” for them to stay competitive on a nightly basis. This can’t happen when they feel like doing it; it needs to happen right now. Four points in the last six games is no way to show the league that you’re a contender.

  • iRandy

    The team strategy of tanking for several years, and developing players through the draft only takes you so far. Eventually, you need to bring in some veterans with the experience required to take the team to the next level. Pittsburgh added several veterans over the last few years to show Crosby, Fleury, Staal and Malkin how to play with a lead. Maybe it’s already too late for this year, but Columbus definitely needs to bring in some veterans to turn this stop this from becoming a total disaster. It would be a shame to see Columbus fall flat here. C’mon, management, do something!

  • Super_Dave

    Right about now is when you’d hear that age-old cliche about playing a full 60 minutes. One’s gotta think a deal for a seasoned veteran with that “killer instinct” is just around the corner, something to shake up the Jackets. Giving up leads in the third period is a problem Hitchcock and Howson must correct (and soon) or this team will not take the next step this season.

  • Dark Blue Jacket

    It’s been a humbling 1st quarter of the season, and you documented the core issues well. The defensive injuries/illnesses have pretty much brought the team to its knees. Let’s hope the 2nd quarter is better…

  • Mike Colligan

    Good article. Hitch’s defensive system is nice, but from what I’ve seen with Columbus lately the talent/experience is a bit of a concern. (Admittedly have only seen a handful of games this year)

    When you pull off the gas, and the team trying to come back starts jumping in harder on the forecheck, weak defensemen start getting exposed. Last year Mason bailed them out. This year he hasn’t and it’s costing them games.

    I don’t think it’d be the worst thing for them to be out of the playoffs early and continue to build for next year. This team isn’t close to contending but has some nice pieces in place.