By Rick Gethin
Seven days ago, RJ Umberger said that “losing has to hurt” for the collective mindset in the Columbus locker room to start the process of winning on a consistant basis. With the lack of anger at losing 3-1 to the Anaheim Ducks displayed after the game Saturday evening, this club isn’t there yet. There was disappointment and dejection at dropping another game at the supposed “friendly confines” of Nationwide Arena, to be sure. Yet, the fire that comes from losing hasn’t surfaced in the eyes of these players.
The Columbus Blue Jackets had control of this game, especially for the 2nd and 3rd periods. What relegated them to zero points were turnovers and forcing passes, and what seemed to be a lack of players getting in the face of the Ducks Jonas Hiller in the dirty area of the crease. “We’ve got to go the tough areas to score goals,” said Raffi Torres, “especially this team. We need all four lines pitching in here; when things aren’t going right, you’ve got to get your nose dirty.” With the lack of traffic in front of him, Hiller had few problems stopping the Blue Jackets shots. The inability to convert on a 5 on 3 hurt them, also.
After two games of playing a full 60 minutes and 3 out of a possible 4 points garnered, Columbus took 20 minutes of and it was all Anaheim needed. This is a somewhat unfortunate, recurring problem with this club. The fans haven’t seen where the losing hurts yet for these players. Judging from the words of the average fan, it hurts the people watching them much more. Here is a team that is largely intact from one season ago. Yes, expectations are that much higher; as well they should be. Thirty-two games into the season and they’re only 2 points ahead of where they were one year ago. What is happening to the Blue Jackets?
Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock has been saying, with increasing regularity, that the top guys have to play better; he upped the ante Saturday night. “It’s not working right now,” said Hitchcock, “the line’s not working (Nash/Vermette/Huselius). We have to help the line or change the players.” Frustration at the lack of production from these players was evident in Hitchcock’s voice. He knows that something needs to be done to get these guys off the schneid; exactly what that is, is anyone’s guess. He didn’t single out just one player on the top line, he called out all three of them. When your 3rd and 4th line players are consistantly making plays while the top two lines are not producing, you know that Hitchcock will start moving players up and down. What those line combinations will be, remain to be seen.
With another game in less than 48 hours versus Nashville, the mindset must change. I leave you with the words of Bobby Knight: The key is not the “will to win” – everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important. The Blue Jackets must prepare themselves totally to take this to the next level. To do otherwise would bring nothing but disappointment.