Blue Jackets Blasts: Panthers Embarrassment, Voracek, Oilers & More

Talk about a roller coaster of emotions this past week for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It started on Tuesday with a 4-2 loss at home to the suddenly hot Chicago Blackhawks. But then, the Blue Jackets played their best game of the season by a long shot Thursday and destroyed the Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 6-0. Everything went right for them.

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However on Saturday, they played their worst and most embarrassing game of the season against the Florida Panthers. When the dust finally settled, the final score was 9-2.

A question on the minds of many is what the final score is representative of. Is this more about how great the Panthers are or how bad the Blue Jackets are? That’s where we’ll start this week on Blue Jackets Blasts.

Blue Jackets Had a Bad Game, But…

Let’s not pin everything on the Blue Jackets here. Yes they got hammered by the Panthers. Yes it’s been mostly a struggle of late to win games. But did you see how dominant the Panthers were? When they administer a beatdown, they don’t care who they do that to.

Need proof? Look at some of their results and who they’ve taken to the woodshed.

  • A 9-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec 30.
  • A 6-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Jan 4.
  • A 7-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Jan 14.
  • A 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche back on Oct 21.
  • Two wins over the New York Islanders, 5-1 and 6-1 in October and November.
  • Two wins over the Washington Capitals in November where they scored five in each game.

We haven’t seen this kind of offensive dominance from a team since the 1990’s. It’s why they will enter Monday as the best team in the NHL in the standings. As horrible as the Blue Jackets were Saturday, the Panthers had something to do with that.

As for the Blue Jackets, the theme postgame was the same from everyone who spoke. Brad Larsen said the team should be embarrassed. Zach Werenski and Gus Nyquist each echoed the same thing. Larsen even took it as far as saying some players were “giving in.” This is the problem they must address.

We knew this season was going to be tough on them given where they are at in the cycle. They were expected to lose and lose a lot. Having the Panthers defeat them is usually nothing to be ashamed of. That is except for the way it happened in this game.

The Panthers did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. They won all the races and puck battles. Whatever goodwill the Blue Jackets felt after their 6-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes was clearly gone after the first period after being down 4-0.

When the crowd in Florida was chanting “We want 10” as soon as the first period was over, if you’re a Blue Jackets’ player, you should feel embarrassed about that. The last two periods were about the response and who would continue to fight in the face of adversity. For Larsen to say players were giving in is not a good sign.

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However it’s not like the Blue Jackets can do a lot about that now given the injuries and COVID protocol. They’re in a tough spot. The extra days off leading into Thursday can be a good thing. They’ll get practice time. They’ll get time to see if players can come out of COVID protocol. But at the top of their list, they must address players giving in during games.

Larsen of course won’t name which players he thought gave in. But watch the ice times and usage in games. If there’s a particular player or two not getting the ice time you’d expect or if they’re not out in key situations, that’s your clue. This will be a huge test for Larsen to see how he and his staff handle this situation.

That doesn’t excuse the Blue Jackets from playing an embarrassing game like that Saturday and having the coach say players gave into the situation. But give the Panthers credit for playing a full 60 minutes and dominating. Each team had an equal share in the result.

Voracek & Latest on COVID Protocol

COVID protocol continues to be a thing around the league and with the Blue Jackets. Two players, Jake Voracek and Cole Sillinger, remain in protocol as of Monday morning. For Voracek, this could mean he misses a significant game this week.

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On Thursday, the Blue Jackets play in Philadelphia for the first time this season against the Flyers. This was supposed to be Voracek’s homecoming game. But with him in COVID protocol, he is questionable for that game.

There remains a chance Voracek could play Thursday. If he is able to test negative by midweek, he could return. But if he remains in protocol for the full 10 days, he will miss that game. The Blue Jackets are not scheduled to play in Philadelphia again until Apr 5. The tribute video will have to wait in that case.

Jakub Voracek Columbus Blue Jackets
Jakub Voracek hopes he can clear protocol in time for the game Thursday in Philadelphia. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As for Sillinger, he was in line to play Saturday in Florida before his positive test came up. Liam Foudy was called up from the taxi squad and played in Sillinger’s place. Foudy is expected to stay with the Blue Jackets as long as Sillinger remains in protocol.

It will be interesting to see if other positive tests come up over the course of the week. Both the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks each had multiple positive tests last week after their game against each other. As Larsen always says, we’ll see what the lineup looks like at game time. What they think their lineup is in the morning could change multiple times by puck drop. It will remain like that for the rest of this season.

What’s Up With the Oilers?

The eyes of the hockey world are on the Oilers and for good reason. After a strong start to their season, they have fallen on hard times. Look at their splits.

  • First 10 games: 9-1-0.
  • Next 11 games: 7-4-0. They were 16-5-0 after 21 games.
  • Last 14 games: 2-10-2.

Teams go through streaks throughout a season. But this last stretch should raise all kinds of red flags. When you have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, you should expect to win games. The Oilers did early. Now they cannot find their footing.

In Edmonton, missing the playoffs is completely unacceptable. It cannot happen. But as I write this piece, the Oilers sit in 20th place in the overall NHL standings. Whether you look at them from a points standpoint or a points percentage standpoint, the result is the same, 20th place.

If this were to hold true, the Oilers would possess a lottery pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Maybe that’s why GM Ken Holland doesn’t want to part with a first rounder: because it could be a very high pick. But what are the Oilers doing here?

Ken Holland Edmonton Oilers
Ken Holland has a decision to make if losses continue to pile up. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When your Stanley Cup window is open, you go for it plain and simple. Nothing is guaranteed. Even your best laid plans for the future might not work out. This would be the time we would expect McDavid to be an annual playoff visitor. But unless something dramatically changes in the next couple of months, all this will be is yet another wasted season in McDavid’s prime.

McDavid is not the type of player that would ask out of a situation. He’s the leader and will do what he can to make things work there. But the onus is on management to put the right mix of players around him so they can go on long playoff runs.

I can’t help but think about a player like Marc-Andre Fleury going to the Oilers. It’s no secret they need a goalie. He would be the best one available between now and the deadline.

If the Oilers are serious about their pursuit of the Stanley Cup, they’ll do something to improve their team now. If they don’t want to do that, perhaps a change is needed. How many more losses will it take before it becomes a complete disaster?

If Saturday night was any indication, something’s gotta give. The Oilers were up 3-1 going to the third period and seemed primed to get a huge win. Instead, they get outscored by the Senators 5-1 in the third and lose 6-4. That can’t happen.

Related: Oilers’ Skinner Blows Golden Opportunity in Loss to Senators

The pressure is on. Holland believes the answer is in the locker room. If he’s wrong, that will have major consequences not only now, but for years to come.

See you next week, hockey fans.