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.