Blue Jackets Grinding Without Key Players

The challenge was clear.

One night after dismantling the Montreal Canadiens 10-0 at Nationwide Arena, the Columbus Blue Jackets had to play a team who has traditionally been tough on them, especially on the road. In playing the St. Louis Blues, the Blue Jackets knew what challenges were waiting for them.

Although the Blues have struggled some out of the gate (they won both their games this weekend), they are one of the most fundamentally sound teams in hockey. With a solid defense and offensive star power, the Blues present a difficult matchup to anyone who plays them.

That said, the Blue Jackets played hard and earned a difficult point on the road. In most other seasons, the Blue Jackets don’t get that point.

Grinding It Out

They were outplayed the first two periods, despite holding a 1-0 lead. They played better in the third period, but yielded the tying goal thanks to a lapse in coverage. Jay Bouwmeester skated down the left-wing uncontested, while five Blue Jackets stood on the right side. Bouwmeester unleashed a slap shot that Curtis McElhinney couldn’t stop.

In other seasons, the Blue Jackets give up the go-ahead goal in quick manner. Not this time.

They buckled down and held the Blues to five shots in the third period. The score was 1-1 going to overtime. That point by Columbus gave the team their second best 10-game start in franchise history. Now could they get that precious second point?

In an overtime that lacked whistles, teams traded chances. But it was the star power of the Blues who rose to the occasion when they needed it most.

Vladimir Tarasenko got the puck inside the blue line. He looked covered. Brandon Saad and Sam Gagner were in the defensive zone ready to challenge Tarasenko. Then it fell apart.

Tarasenko skated around Saad with Gagner in no position to support. The result was a wide open look for Tarasenko who made a great shot and sent the Blues home with two points.

The Blue Jackets star of the game was McElhinney. Making his first start of the season, he played good, positional hockey and made several great saves to give his team a chance to win. He got that point for Columbus.

The Blue Jackets have now held opponents to three total goals in their last four games in regulation. Despite the overtime loss, there’s plenty of good things happening.

The Postgame Presser

Then came the postgame press conference. Tortorella was not happy at all.

Although Torts admitted that the team grinded their way through this game and got a point, he called some players out without naming names.

“The thing that really crawls up my (butt), is when Foligno fights that animal (Ryan Reaves), Mac plays the way he does, and then a few of our top guys, they did not give enough. We cannot see that again from some of these guys.”

Tortorella then advised us to watch the tape to see who he meant. I have done just that. I will share with you who I think he meant by his comment.

Couple of things to note before we begin. First, Tortorella said that they “didn’t give enough.” He’s not saying that these players gave nothing. He’s saying they didn’t give enough. Torts used Foligno as an example post game basically saying that he went above and beyond to help spark his team.

Second, my list is based on what is expected of them. Let’s dive in.


(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Boone Jenner and others are off to unusually slow starts. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Tortorella reunited this line hoping to finally get something from them. Unfortunately it didn’t happen Saturday in St. Louis.

Here are the stat lines of these three players from Saturday:

  • Cam Atkinson: 0-0-0. 2 PIM’s. 5 SOG. 2 Hits. 1 Block. Played 20:01.
  • Brandon Dubinsky: 0-0-0, 2 PIMs. 0 SOG. 3 Hits. 1 Block. 55% FO success. Played 19:09.
  • Boone Jenner: 0-0-0, 2 SOG. Played just 12:41 because of several penalties in the third.

For the season now, this trio has just two points at even strength, combined. A lot was expected from this line from the start of the season. They’ve all played 10 games and have little to show for it.

Now let’s be fair here. Atkinson has four goals, three assists and seven points this season, with all his production on the power play. He’s been fantastic on the man advantage. I’m not as concerned with Cam as I am the other two.

Jenner made a nice play to help create Josh Anderson’s goal Saturday by pressuring Kevin Shattenkirk into a turnover. Shattenkirk gave Jenner credit after the game for that play.

Dubinsky has been out taking every important faceoff the team has.

So yes, they are making contributions. But Torts said those unnamed players weren’t giving enough. Two even strength points in 10 games combined qualifies as not giving enough. If this isn’t enough of a hint as to who those players are, Torts gave another hint Saturday.

“I kick myself in the (butt), hoping (by putting certain players out), it’s just wrong to see some players give everything.”

Torts admitted he kept sending players out hoping to get something. Now he’s kicking himself for doing that. The tape wasn’t very kind when they were out together. They weren’t dangerous at all. I barely noticed them live and on tape.

Torts didn’t change the lines like he did in other games. I expect to see some sort of change come practice this week. This trio needs to give more. Imagine how good Columbus can be if they start getting better versions of these players.

Brandon Saad

Brandon Saad, NHL, Columbus Blue Jackets, Fantasy Hockey
A couple Brandon Saad lapses in overtime have cost Columbus points. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

My issue here is how overtime ended on Saturday. It’s not the first time this season a game-ending goal was scored because of a lapse on Saad’s part.

Saad was in place to confront Tarasenko. It didn’t seem the Blue Jackets were in any danger. Then Tarasenko skated around Saad. Tarasenko just moved left and caught Saad off guard. The game was then over.

Remember the Los Angeles game? Saad let his man Alek Martinez beat him up the ice to score the eventual game-winning goal.

These lapses have cost the Blue Jackets multiple points now. This is a good example of someone who didn’t give everything to prevent that overtime chance.

Saad is a great player who has untimely lapses in his game. He can be the most dominant player on the ice sometimes, and completely disappear other times. Torts needs more from Saad. If the Blue Jackets want to get better, Saad must be one of the reasons this happens.

The Road Ahead

Still, the Blue Jackets are 5-3-2 and have four of their next five games at home. They host Anaheim Wednesday, then travel to Boston Thursday. Then they’re back home Saturday for a return match with the Blues on their Hockey Fights Cancer night.

This isn’t doom and gloom for these named players. It’s just a reality that they need to play better for the team to get better. We’ll see how Torts decides to handle this situation.

See you next week at this time.