It was the ultimate game of who was right and who was wrong.
On one side, you have the Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite losing all that talent to unrestricted free agency in the offseason, GM Jarmo Kekalainen and crew maintained that not only would the team be ok, they’d be a playoff team. They were defiant in the face of scrutiny.
On the other side, you have the doubters. These are the folks that saw what the Blue Jackets lost and couldn’t see a scenario where they would make the playoffs. An elite winger, a Vezina-winning goalie and a top-six center was just too much to overcome.
The Blue Jackets will play their 30th game of the season Monday night at Capital One Arena against the Metropolitan-leading Washington Capitals. With a record of 11-14-4 on the season, the doubters are winning the battle to this point. The Blue Jackets are in 27th place overall 11 points out of a playoff spot.
And let’s not bring the St. Louis Blues argument into this. That was a more veteran team who vastly underperformed that got a huge jolt from a young goaltender. The Blue Jackets are nowhere near that scenario.
Let’s just call it like we see it. This is not a playoff team. Not even close.
And while we need to acknowledge that there are some good things going on in spots, there are way too many issues throughout the team that are in unison holding them back from where they want to be. For the Blue Jackets to make the playoffs, they needed several things to go right. It hasn’t. Their record is deserved.
So what’s wrong? The biggest thing is finish. They’re getting shots at a pace where they are in the top-10 in shots on goal. But they have the third worst shooting percentage in the NHL.
Look at their results during the current four-game losing streak.
- A 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders.
- A 4-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes.
- A 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers.
- A 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.
Scoring five total goals in these four games is simply not good enough. Even if their goaltending, which has been decent of late, performs well, it’s still hard for them to win because there isn’t enough offensive support.
Cam Atkinson isn’t scoring at his normal pace. Josh Anderson has struggled all season and cannot buy a goal. Alexander Wennberg is nowhere to be found. He found a seat in the press box Saturday night in Florida. These are players that have to be your best players.
Now couple that with the rookies playing big minutes in important spots. The end result is a team trying to find themselves.
Someone to Lean On?
This leads to the biggest issue of all plaguing this team. When a big momentum-swinging moment is needed, the Blue Jackets haven’t been able to create those moments to swing the momentum in their favor.
When a defining moment was needed last season, Artemi Panarin provided it on offense. Sergei Bobrovsky provided game-defining saves. There were blemishes but these superstars were good enough to mask many of those issues.
Well as you know, they’re not there anymore. Who can the Blue Jackets lean on in desperate times? There in lies the problem. No one has stepped up. It’s fair to wonder if this team has anyone who can do that.
The goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins are each learning their position. They’re not Bobrovsky. Seth Jones is elite and can take over games at will. But it hasn’t happened this season to a level many would expect. And we know the issues on offense. When you have this setup, this is the result you get.
Where’s the Swagger?
I really don’t know what management was thinking when they were defiant about how good they could be. They were sick and tired of the doubters and it upset them. But they haven’t done anything to silence those doubters.
There in lies another issue. The players were eager to prove that they could be a good team this season. There was emotion. There was energy. They were ready to play against the world.
Now though? I see a team having trouble finding solutions to their scoring woes. I hear the same thing over and over again from players and the coach. “We’ll see where it goes.” I don’t see the same energy and defiance that was demonstrated in the preseason. I’m also not hearing a plan of attack to rectify the scoring.
And now the Blue Jackets have to try to find their way without one of their best defensemen in Zach Werenski for multiple weeks. They may have to play without Emil Bemstrom as well. It was hard to score goals with them in the lineup. It only gets harder without them.
I Guess I’m a Doubter
The solution has to be somewhere in that locker room. As of late there has been no evidence of a breakthrough. While the underlying numbers suggest some improvement could be coming, if they can’t finish, there won’t be a breakthrough. Also if the back-breaking mistakes keep happening, there won’t be any breakthrough.
If there’s no breakthrough, then the doubters were right all along. At the 30-game mark, there is no question the doubters have been right. If this is going to change, the players need to play like they have something to prove. I’m just not sure this group has it in them.
I guess that makes me a doubter. If the real Columbus Blue Jackets show up, the one which their stars play to their capability, then I’m open to change. At this point though, they have to show me I’m wrong.
Doubters 1. Blue Jackets 0.
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 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.