You know the expression. If you’re like me, you’ve seen the movie Forrest Gump hundreds of times. You also likely know most of the lines by heart.
One of that movie’s most iconic lines applies today to this current version of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“My mama always said, life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you were gonna get.” I’m not sure there’s a phrase or movie quote that more perfectly describes the state of the Blue Jackets than that one.
Tuesday night in Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets suffered another setback, 4-2 to the Florida Panthers. It’s to the point where we really don’t know which team is going to show up on any given night. I don’t even think they do either. That’s a huge issue at this stage.
Identity Gone Missing
Now let’s face some hard facts here. The Blue Jackets are simply not the same team that we’ve been accustomed to seeing. Players that were a huge part of the identity of this team are either injured (Gus Nyquist) or gone (Josh Anderson, Pierre-Luc Dubois.)
This version of the Blue Jackets isn’t that in your face team who could play a physical game at will and take control of games. Anderson and Dubois could each lead the team into the battle on their own and dictate play using the body. Nyquist could do that to a lesser degree. I’m not sure we’re talking enough about how much the team misses him right now.
While these Blue Jackets have some familiar faces that will throw the body (Boone Jenner, Nick Foligno and others), it’s just not the same. What we have now is an in-between team who thinks they can throw the body but also thinks they have some more skill. They’re caught in the middle and they’re not quite sure who they are yet. If they don’t know, how could we possibly know?
Examples From the Game
Let’s look back at Tuesday’s game just to give you some examples. The pregame warmup revealed something very interesting. Center Riley Nash skated with Oliver Bjorkstrand and Patrik Laine. It was expected that Jack Roslovic would be in that spot. But nope. He skated on the fourth line in warmups and played there most of the night. Roslovic played just 11:50 including just four shifts in the third period while the team was trying to find a comeback.
We expected Roslovic and Laine to get an opportunity to try to find their games again. Instead John Tortorella decided to give Nash a look in the top-six. Postgame, Tortorella said he liked the lines. For the most part until the third period, they stayed in tact. Will this stay the same for Thursday? We won’t know until practice or beyond.
As for example two, the Blue Jackets came into Tuesday after being shutout by the Dallas Stars Saturday night. The talk by the team was “it’s go time.” If they want to make these playoffs, they gotta go and they gotta go now. So what happens in the first few minutes of the game? The Panthers completely dominate the Blue Jackets. Just five minutes into the game, Joonas Korpisalo allows a soft goal after Gabriel Carlsson gets caught flat-footed and loses his man. It’s 1-0 and now the Blue Jackets are in chase mode.
Their words were “it’s go time” and they weren’t even ready to play at the start. Again, we just don’t know what we’ll get right now. To their credit, they played a decent game overall after that. But special teams became a huge factor as the Panthers connected on two goals while the Blue Jackets couldn’t convert on three chances. There’s your game.
And now here’s example three of not knowing what we’re gonna get. Where is the finish right now? The Blue Jackets fired 40 shots on Sergei Bobrovsky. This doesn’t even include numerous scoring chances where they had a wide open net or a great chance to score. Foligno had perhaps the most glorious chance of all, only to miss a wide-open net. He’ll see that one for a long time. Had he buried that, who knows where the game goes?
But the list of not knowing what’s next goes on. Laine is a shell of himself battling some confidence issues. He had some chances Tuesday including a late barrage of shots with the goalie pulled. He finished the night with six shots on goal. Earlier he hit a post.
Roslovic had a rough night. Tortorella postgame called out his performance and his need to understand how hard he has to work in situations. Remember he was one that got chances as a top-line center. But it’s been a struggle after enjoying a good start with his hometown team.
Alex Texier has had his share of struggles coming in but was perhaps one of the Blue Jackets’ best players on Tuesday. He helped create Michael Del Zotto’s goal by feeding a great pass to Eric Robinson. He also made some impact plays with the puck as well. I genuinely don’t know which version of Texier we’ll get from night to night.
But perhaps in the end, we really shouldn’t be surprised at this being the current reality.
A True Roller Coaster
These Blue Jackets are trying to find their identity. As it stands now, they have a little bit of a few different things. But they don’t have that one thing they can lean on to help them overcome adverse situations like they did in the past. Just look at the past four games and how they’ve played out.
- Detroit, 4-1 win. A great second period helped propel the Blue Jackets. They found some confidence and everyone was able to pitch in on different things.
- Dallas, 3-2 win. A great start and carryover from the Detroit game was enough to hold on for a much-needed win. The Stars got two late in the third but they were able to find a way.
- Dallas, 5-0 loss. Whatever confidence they gained was now gone again. A controversial goal coupled with a penalty for unsuccessful challenge put the Blue Jackets behind early and they could never get things going the right way. The offense went ice cold.
- Florida, 4-2 loss. A slow start, but then a nice pushback but still couldn’t finish when they needed to.
What are we going to see Thursday night in the rematch with the Panthers? I have no idea. It’s really anyone’s best guess. These Blue Jackets are like a box of chocolates right now until they are able to establish who they truly are. Can that happen with just 29 games left in a shortened season? Who knows.
The NHL’s Trade Deadline is just 33 days away. The Blue Jackets are going to have to decide who they are and what management thinks they can be.
As we sit here on Wednesday as of this writing, the Blue Jackets are six points behind the Blackhawks for fourth place in the Discover Central Division. They can overcome that, but only if they close the chocolate box and forge their identity now.
This is just not the same team from the recent playoff years. With that comes inconsistency. With that comes unpredictability. Will they be ready from the drop of the puck Thursday? Will they be able to finish more chances?
The Blue Jackets will say they’ll be ready. They’ll say they can finish better. But the one thing they can’t say yet is what their identity is.
Life is truly like a box of chocolate for these Blue Jackets. They and we don’t really know what we’re gonna get.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.