It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. For these Columbus Blue Jackets, they’ve demonstrated both sides of this equation in short order. It’s been quite the roller coaster ride of late.
Let’s do a quick recap of events just to give you an idea of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows these Blue Jackets have encountered.
- The Blue Jackets sweep a two-game set against the Colorado Avalanche, a team many think of as a Stanley Cup favorite.
- They proceed to lose their next two to a pair of division rivals in the Capitals and Rangers.
- They then defeat Detroit and Arizona to regain some momentum…
- Only to play well in Vegas against the Golden Knights and lose a tough one after leading 2-0 early.
- The Blue Jackets then come right back the following week and win their next three against the Sabres, Jets and Canucks. The Canucks win was actually a sign of things to come.
- Then they lose every game on their most recent four-game road trip through St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas and Washington.
- They finally come home and get a victory to feel good about themselves against the Sharks.
Overall, the Blue Jackets’ record entering Tuesday’s clash with the Maple Leafs stands at 13-10-0. This is indicative of a team that has had both good and bad moments mixed in.
Truth be told, this is a team in the Blue Jackets that has shown their youth in these recent games. They are showing signs of being one of the youngest teams in the NHL. It is not unexpected, but it will lead to many frustrating nights as they try to learn and grow together as a team.
Specifically, there are a few things that stand out which proves that their youth is showing. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some of this is actually very good for them if they learn and grow from this experience. Let me show you what I mean.
Bouts of Inconsistency
First things first. A tall-tale sign of a young team is their many nights of inconsistency. The stretch of games we mentioned above puts that into perspective for us. Win two, lose two, win two, lose one, win three, lose four, win one.
The result is an 8-7-0 record in their last 15 games. 15-0 is consistently winning. 0-15 is consistently losing. Going 8-7-0 is doing both which leads to many frustrating nights. Your game works sometimes. Other times you’re far behind.
We’ll get into more detail below about what the Blue Jackets aren’t consistent at. But just remember that they will have many nights of failure where it seems like nothing is working. They’re playing against more experienced teams on most nights that have consistency more figured out. This is a process that takes years to figure out.
Younger players will encounter situations they’ve never experienced before in games. Take Cole Sillinger for example. He’s the youngest player in the NHL at 18 years old and the last standing 2021 draftee still playing this season. As each game passes, he’s learning something new. Whether it’s a specific play or situation or how to handle a faceoff a particular way based on the time of the game, Sillinger is getting a crash course in what NHL life is like.
Sillinger is also seeing first-hand what the grind of an NHL season has. He’s learning quickly that you won’t always have A+ energy coming in. He is also learning that he won’t have his best game every night. And because he plays center ice, he’s learning how difficult a position it really is. The degree of difficulty of what Sillinger is encountering is off the charts.
After a torrid start, Sillinger in his last 10 games has just 1-1-2 and is a -6. This is not unexpected for someone in his position. He is going to have long bouts of inconsistency. But what’s encouraging is that he’s battling and fighting his way through all the challenges. This is what will eventually be a good thing for him. He’ll have that experience to draw from that will help him in his later seasons.
This applies to other young players too. Yegor Chinakhov, Justin Danforth, Gregory Hofmann are just a few examples of this. Chinakhov is still learning the game on this side of the pond. He found himself scratched Sunday night against the Sharks. Danforth had to wait his turn and is quickly becoming someone that coach Brad Larsen is trusting. But he too will have bouts of inconsistency as he gets more games. And Hofmann has the tools but he needs to learn how the game is played over here. He’s been on the outside at times waiting his turn.
This is going to be a trend all season. These Blue Jackets will fight and battle to the end. But they won’t always get their desired result until they find a way to be more consistent in their game. It won’t happen overnight. It will take a season or more of experience to finally get to that place where there’s more consistency. Let’s focus now on what makes them inconsistent and how their youth is showing as a result.
This was especially glaring on their last road trip. The second period in St. Louis. The first period in Nashville. Just about a minute late in the second period in Dallas. The first two periods in Washington.
The Blue Jackets had massive breakdowns that cost their team. Another sign of a young team is forcing the issue when things aren’t going your way. It’s a natural reaction to try to want to make a big play. But these lead to many unforced errors and opportunities for their opponents that they’re waiting to feast on.
The Blues connected on three goals in the second period and never looked back. The Predators took advantage of several mistakes and dominated the night. Even though it was a short time, the Stars turned the game from 2-1 to 3-2 in seconds. And the Capitals imposed their defensive will against the Blue Jackets and forced several mistakes which limited their chances to produce offense.
These Blue Jackets are still learning many things. One of those things is their structure. If they stay within their structure, they tend to find success. However when they get away from it, they’ve been buried in games. They will learn what it takes in time to limit the breakdowns. But for now, they’re going to have several of these a game. Again, going through this experience of learning will eventually benefit them. However many long, frustrating nights are forthcoming. That leads us to our next point of emphasis.
Losing Momentum For Long Stretches
This thing, losing momentum for long stretches. Sometimes it’s a few minutes. Other times it’s whole periods. Sometimes they don’t generate any momentum at all.
This is another sure sign of a young team in action. While they will have moments where the momentum is on their side, they will have many more moments where they’re chasing it down from their opponent without getting it back. Let’s highlight a couple of examples.
Rewind back to the Golden Knights’ game. The Blue Jackets dominated the first period to the tune of 2-0 including scoring a shorthanded goal. Life was good. And then the real Golden Knights came out starting in the second period.
For the next 40 minutes, the Blue Jackets had no answers. Whatever momentum they gained was gone. The Golden Knights controlled the play and did whatever they wanted and there was nothing the Blue Jackets could do about it. The Golden Knights stormed back and eventually took the game 3-2.
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Then in the Canucks game, the Blue Jackets were dominated most of the game. They rarely had the puck and chased the Canucks everywhere. The difference here was that the Blue Jackets made enough plays to take back momentum even if it was for a short time. They led the whole way and eventually took the game 4-2. So lesson learned, right? Not so fast.
Again the Blue Jackets dominate the first against the Blues to take a lead. Then momentum was gone again never to come back. They never had momentum in Nashville. And then in Dallas and Washington they played better but still couldn’t wrestle the momentum away for good.
There’s no easy answer to how momentum works. If anyone had an answer it would have been consistently done by now. The key is learning how to manage the ebbs and flows of a game where you remain in the hunt no matter what’s going on at that moment. It’s being able to stay within their structure even if the world is falling down around them. The key word here is discipline. These Blue Jackets need to learn to stay true to their identity and discipline themselves to do so even if the opponent is dominating them.
As these Blue Jackets gain more experience, they will start to show signs of improvement in the momentum department. Like everything else we’ve discussed, this will not be obtained overnight. Their youth and inexperience will overcome them on many nights. But it’s what they do with the lessons that will ultimately dictate where they go. Let’s now end on a positive note.
But Don’t Forget Their Skill
We discussed the Blue Jackets’ shortcomings above. But let’s not forget that this team has skill. They’re going to be able to overcome some of these obstacles because of that skill. A 13-10-0 record with this team at this point is nothing to sneeze at.
Another sign of the youth on this team is the flashes of skill they bring at different points. It’s not quite to the level of consistency they want, but you can clearly see it.
Sillinger has the skill and the tools to be successful. Chinakhov has the blazing shot but is still finding out how good the goaltenders in this league are. We can go up and down this lineup and point out the skill everyone has. On some nights, that alone will be good enough to win.
But what works one night will not work on another. The Blue Jackets are in the midst of learning this hard reality about life in the NHL. Youth will show how good they can be at times while also showing how much they still have to learn.
Given the overall state of the Blue Jackets, this is an acceptable place for them to be at. The experience is invaluable while being shown first hand what it takes to be successful in the NHL.
If we’ve learned anything from this recent stretch of games, it’s that the Blue Jackets have shown their youth. The inconsistencies, the breakdowns and the momentum swings have proven that.
But take heart in the fact that none of this is unexpected. The Blue Jackets are right where they’re supposed to be on the eventual road to success. They will encounter many flat tires and more on their journey.
Their hope is that in the end, all these bumps, bruises, trials and tribulations help propel them to their ultimate destination. That destination is to become a champion.
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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 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.