The National Hockey League is hard enough as it is with 29 teams trying whatever it takes to beat you. The task becomes that much harder when you have to overcome 30 teams. How does this happen? It happens when you are your own worst enemy.
Yet, that’s where the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves. After an emotional 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins last Friday, the Blue Jackets proceeded to lose their next two outings, scoring just one goal in each loss. Looking back at those games, they should have been wins. Had the Blue Jackets stayed out of their own way, we would talk about their latest victories, not their crushing defeats.
Saturday night in St. Louis, the Blue Jackets jump out to an early lead, only to see the Blues dominate the last 40 minutes. Even still, the game was 1-1 in the third period. Then David Backes beat three Blue Jackets in a board battle. Backes then sent the puck to Scottie Upshall, who beat Sergei Bobrovsky. That gave the Blues a 2-1 lead. When you have a three-on-one on the boards in your favor, you must win that battle. The Blue Jackets didn’t. They go on to lose 3-1.
Tuesday night in Montreal, the Blue Jackets again find themselves in a 1-1 tie late in the third period. They seemed destined for overtime. However with under three minutes left in regulation, Scott Hartnell reaches around P.K. Subban and takes him down. That’s a penalty at the worst possible time. Blue Jacket killer Max Pacioretty proceeds to score on the ensuing power play. Columbus can’t tie it. Montreal wins 2-1.
Their Own Worst Enemy
The Blue Jackets missed on several opportunities in Montreal. Brandon Saad had two excellent chances near the net. He missed on both. Then Columbus had a five-minute power play. They couldn’t convert.
The Blue Jackets beat themselves. This has been a disturbing trend in the first third of the season. Whether it’s a late penalty, or a crushing goal against, the Blue Jackets have made it a habit of beating themselves. Why is this happening?
I posed this question to both Jack Johnson and Ryan Johansen. They each cited the same reason.
“It’s more mental than anything”, Johnson said. “It’s a mental thing”, Johansen told me.
Johnson and Johansen both admitted that the team is not where it needs to be at mentally. This is not the problem the Blue Jackets need this deep into the season. It should give you cause for concern.
The Blue Jackets are a young team. There are moments in games that will test you mentally. But as of late, the same devastating things are happening. It happened when Todd Richards was coaching. It’s happening with John Tortorella now. There are major mental lapses that is costing this team games. It’s fast tracked them to last place in the Eastern Conference.
There is only so much that Tortorella can do. It’s up to the players to dig deep and overcome this hurdle. How will this happen? It will happen one game at a time, one period at a time, one shift at a time. This team needs little successes. They need to experience the feeling of sustained success. That helps build confidence. That gives you something to lean on when things aren’t going well.
There have been bright spots. But that’s hard to focus on when losses pile up in bundles. The focus has to shift away from past failures, and more emphasis must be placed on the task ahead. The Blue Jackets host Florida on Friday and play Philadelphia Saturday. These are winnable games, if they are mentally ready.
Watch how the players handle their business in this next stretch of games. It will tell us how far along they are coming mentally. How will they handle adversity? Will they rise up and conquer, or will they wither under pressure? If they stop beating themselves, they can rise up and save this season. Otherwise, it’s time to start thinking about the draft, and nobody wants that yet.