The beginning stages of the home opener was off to a promising start. A sellout crowd of 18,889 fans packed Nationwide Arena on a Friday night. Player introductions got the crowd rowdy especially when two men dressed as soldiers opened the locker room door with the players waiting to come out. Fans couldn’t have asked for a better start to the night.
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Then just 2:21 into the game, Justin Danforth slipped a pass to Johnny Gaudreau who buried it for his first goal as a Blue Jacket. His celebration said it all. The crowd who was already amped up exploded in celebration.
But after those early fireworks, the inexplicable happened. After being up 1-0, the Blue Jackets never held the lead again. They were outscored 5-1 by the Lightning and were outshot 38-25. What happened here?
Early Signs of Trouble
What happened here was the better team won. The Lightning dug in and then took over the game. Ross Colton’s goal splitting the Blue Jackets’ defense gave them a 3-2 lead heading into the first intermission. After a tremendous start, to be down they way it happened seemed demoralizing. As it turned out, it was.
The Lightning added single goals in the second and third to make the final 5-2. Outside of the first 10 minutes of the game, the Blue Jackets lacked intensity, energy and focus. On home opening night? After the way the night started? How is that possible?
As we outlined in our season opening column Friday, the future is bright with the Blue Jackets. But we have to be real about where they’re at. There are going to be many down moments for this team as they grow and develop.
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But what happened in the final 50 minutes Friday night was completely unacceptable. As Zach Werenski put it postgame, he thought the team lost their focus.
“I thought we had some turnovers that played right into their hands,” Werenski said. “We’re still in a good spot after one. And then in the second period I just thought we were completely flat, didn’t really have much energy. We weren’t really playing our game.”
“I think for the most part it was focus tonight. Myself included, I think throughout our whole lineup we just lost focus and that’s a team that’s going to make you pay for it. It just seemed there was one breakdown after another. If we clean that stuff up I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Lack of Focus & Energy
The first troubling sign is what Werenski said. He said the whole lineup lost focus. They turned the puck over most of the night. They were chasing the game. Towards the end of the game they looked disinterested.
For a team with higher aspirations who is facing higher expectations, this cannot be a recurring mistake. Mistakes will be made. But this one cannot happen. These Blue Jackets must bring their energy and compete level to every game. As the game wore on, it just looked like they didn’t care about playing defense. That’s concerning even just two games in.
Here’s Brad Larsen postgame: “Other than some pockets early on, but really how we played tonight, we were sloppy. We weren’t good enough tonight, not even close. We had some bad bounces. But that’s not why we lost this game tonight. We lost because they were the better team, plain and simple.”
“It’s execution. It’s sloppiness. How many times did we turn the puck back? We’re turning the puck back and turning feet. We’re feeding the lion is what we’re doing and they were just coming right back at us. That’s what I’m talking about. The missed assignments, that stuff wasn’t there in Game 1.”
The Blue Jackets better bring their energy to St. Louis on Saturday as the Blues will have their season and home opener. They should have plenty of energy. If the Blue Jackets don’t match it, 0-3 is staring right at them. The Blues are 8-2 in their last 10 against the Blue Jackets at Enterprise Center.
From a puck possession standpoint, that was perhaps one of the worst games the Blue Jackets have played in recent memory. When just one skater in the entire lineup achieves 40% CF% per Nat Stat Trick, you know it’s really ugly.
The Blue Jackets did not have one positive player (over 50%) on Friday night. As Larsen said, how many times did they turn it over? When they have to chase the puck all night, it’s tiring. It’s also a recipe for disaster.
The Blue Jackets must find a way to even out the possession numbers. Whether it’s energy, compete, keeping your assignments or any other reason, this is integral if they want to make something from this season. Even just two games in, you can’t have games like Friday.
This goes hand-in-hand with puck possession, but the early concerns about the defense have been warranted in the early going. They have been outscored 9-3, outshot 83-60 and out-attempted 148-76 at 5-on-5.
In fairness, the two games have been against two to the East’s best teams. If anyone in the league is going to make these kind of things happen, it’s the Hurricanes and Lightning. Still, this should provide the Blue Jackets a much-needed wake-up call to clean up their own end.
Forget about the playoffs if the defense is going to allow over 40 shots a night. There was supposed to be evidence of internal growth and development within the young defense core. While they have time to fix things, the early indications are it’s a continuance of last season. The goaltending can only do so much when they face that much rubber. Daniil Tarasov has allowed nine goals on 83 shots against, an .891 save percentage.
It doesn’t matter who is in net. If the defense doesn’t find a way to get stingy soon, it could make for a long season in Columbus.
There is Time, But…
Three troubling signs, their lack of focus, puck possession and defense, have dampened the early season for the Blue Jackets. It’s just two games of 82. They can fix these things.
With the league having so much parody and points already hard to come by, falling behind by multiple games early will be a tough thing to overcome. The Blue Jackets must find a way to end this early slide.
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You can’t make the playoffs in October. But you can be eliminated from them with a bad month. Their response to this start will be the story.
Will it be a reversal of fortunes or a continuance of bad fortunes? If the early warning signs are any indication, there could be serious trouble ahead for the Blue Jackets this season.