It’s a trend that started in the month of November. It continues to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune times. Saturday afternoon against the Carolina Hurricanes, this trend came back in full force against the Blue Jackets. It came back so strong that it became a historic event for both the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets.
Setting the Scene
The Blue Jackets raced out to a 4-0 lead in the second period. Goals by Zach Werenski, Adam Boqvist, Gus Nyquist and Alexandre Texier put the Hurricanes in a huge hole. New Year’s Day seemed destined to be a good one from a Blue Jackets’ perspective.
Well, not so fast.
From that point on, the Hurricanes exploded for seven unanswered goals. The Blue Jackets could do nothing to stop the storm that hit them. They were shell-shocked and didn’t know what to do to swing the momentum back to them.
Daniil Tarasov started the game and made 31 saves on 33 shots in two periods. He left the game after two with a lower-body injury. In came Elvis Merzlikins with the score 4-2 Blue Jackets to start the third.
This was just the second time in Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers history that they came back from 4-0 down to win a game (h/t Bally Sports Carolinas.) Meanwhile the Blue Jackets had never lost after being up four goals at any point in a game, until Saturday.
The Hurricanes are one of the NHL’s elite teams. If there was anyone who could make this kind of comeback, it was them. They have the firepower to score and score often. It would be easy to pin everything on that and move on.
A Disturbing Trend
However this is not the first time the Blue Jackets have blown a big lead in a game this season. This has happened on multiple occasions. Although they’ve fought back and won some of these games, the fact that they’ve blown several big leads is a major cause for concern.
Dating back to Nov 3, here is a list of games where the Blue Jackets had a multi-goal lead only to blow that lead later on.
- Nov 3 at Colorado: Blue Jackets up 4-2 in the third period but gave up two goals in the final four minutes and had to play overtime. They eventually won 5-4 in overtime thanks to Jake Bean.
- Nov 20 at Vegas: Blue Jackets up 2-0 after the first period but give up three unanswered including the game winner with about six minutes left in regulation.
- Dec 11 at Seattle: Blue Jackets up 4-1 after the second period but give up three goals in the third and have to play overtime. Again, Bean rescued them with an overtime winner.
- Dec 14 at Vancouver: Blue Jackets score three in the first to go up 3-0 but then gave up four unanswered goals including three in the third and the winner with 59 seconds left in regulation. That’s consecutive games with blown three goal leads.
There are other occasions where the Blue Jackets had a lead in a game only to lose. Nov 13 against the New York Rangers and Nov 27 against the St. Louis Blues come to mind.
This begs an obvious question. Why does this keep happening? It’s the million dollar question. When a team goes up by three or four goals, they should win the game. Even if they blow it once or twice, that can happen. But this happened four times now plus other times where they had a lead.
Is it because of how young the team is? You can’t pin it all on that fact. While the Blue Jackets are the youngest team in the NHL, they have their share of veterans who should be able to lead the way in that regard.
Speaking of the veterans, is it a leadership thing? Are they doing enough to lead the way in playing defense and holding leads when they have the opportunity? I do think this is part of the issue. On a few occasions, coach Brad Larsen has said that they need more from their veterans and leaders. This includes a commitment to protecting the lead and understanding game situations.
This also includes being able to flip momentum when things aren’t going well for them. All too often, the guys you look to have been invisible while the opposition has carried the momentum. Just look at Saturday’s game against the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes dominated possession. Even though the Blue Jackets were up 4-0, the Hurricanes basically did whatever they wanted. The Blue Jackets chased them the whole game and it came back to bite them. During postgame, two things were said that stood out.
First, coach Larsen said they had no answers for the Hurricanes. Also Werenski said that it wasn’t an effort thing but they need to play smarter. When coupled together, this explains a lot of the situation for us.
Let’s now look at our last question to consider. Is there a talent gap between the Blue Jackets and their opposition? This is certainly true when looking at this from a defensive standpoint.
Among the six that played Saturday, you have a first-time true number-one defenseman in Werenski. You have newcomers to the team in Bean and Boqvist, each not known for their shutdown prowess. You have Vladislav Gavrikov who for now is their best shutdown defender. Then you have young players in Andrew Peeke and Gabriel Carlsson who have limited experience.
Couple that with not having a true shutdown line among the forwards and you have a recipe to let in a lot of goals. As of Sunday, the Blue Jackets have allowed the sixth most goals per game in the NHL at 3.47. They have also scored 3.20 goals per game. That is 10th in the NHL. They are the only team in the NHL to score more than three goals per game but give up more than they score.
When you allow that many goals, you leave the door open for blown leads. It’s for this reason that the near-term outlook in this department doesn’t bode well for immediate improvement. Yes they will improve over time with more experience. But right now? This is a situation where the defensemen are in an intense on the job training trying to figure out what it takes to play defense in the NHL. The lessons so far have been painful.
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One last question to consider for now. Put yourself in the Blue Jackets’ shoes. You’re up a goal. You need a stop. Which five players are you confident putting out there right now to do the job? Based on recent performances, I’m not sure you can say anybody with a high degree of confidence. That’s just the reality of their current situation. These are the growing pains that many predicted would happen to them this season. This is a team who gives up a lot of goals and isn’t showing signs of turning it around anytime soon.
While a few different factors come into play when trying to decipher why they blow big leads in games, it’s a byproduct of their inexperienced defense coupled with needing much more from their leaders.
The Blue Jackets as currently constructed will continue to give up goals. That leaves the door open for blown leads to continue to happen. It’s time for the leaders to step up and take charge of this situation. Whether it’s playing smarter as Werenski said or making more of a commitment to protect leads when given the chance, this just cannot continue to happen.
What we need to watch for moving forward is how much they improve in this department as the season wears on. These kind of blown leads shouldn’t continue at this rate. But if it does, maybe we need to start asking harder questions about where this team is going and what they’re trying to do.
Saturday against the Hurricanes should be a wake-up call. Let’s see if this finally gives them the jolt they need to put an end to this once and for all.
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.