Blue Jackets Showing Some Signs of Life

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a real opportunity this week to bank some points against some weaker opponents. This was the perfect way to move on from an embarrassing 4-0 loss to the Washington Capitals last Saturday while trying to find their way on home ice.

This week proved to be tougher than some anticipated, with the Blue Jackets going 1-1-1 on the week. While only getting three of a possible six points might seem disheartening, their overall play during the week has been encouraging.

Coach John Tortorella wanted the Blue Jackets to reset after the Washington game. They did just that by playing three of their best defensive games of the season. With a little luck, they could have had a perfect week. We revisit the three games from this week and share what we learned about the team as a whole.

The Vancouver Game

This was a weird game. Seth Jones scored just 47 seconds into the game and it seemed like they were going to cruise the rest of the night on the momentum. Instead, the Canucks showed why they were rolling. They stood in with the Blue Jackets and played the first 40 minutes to that same 1-0 score. The Blue Jackets were up 26-14 in shots as well. Then came the weird third period.

Josh Leivo deflected goal, tie game. Then Oliver Bjorkstrand picked his spot and gave the Blue Jackets the lead. That stood until just a little over three minutes left. In the one lapse of the night, the Blue Jackets ignored Elias Pettersson and let him sneak in front of Joonas Korpisalo. Point shot gets deflected yet again and it’s 2-2.

Elias Pettersson
Rookie Elias Pettersson was a big reason why Vancouver got out of Columbus with two points on Tuesday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

The Blue Jackets had things mostly under control the whole night, but then found themselves even on the scoreboard thanks to a breakdown and then bad luck. At least it appeared the Blue Jackets would get overtime and a precious point. Oops.

Just 1:18 later, Jake Virtanen scored from an impossible angle. Korpisalo left the tiniest of holes on the post and Virtanen’s shot found the hole. He could have shot that 99 more times and it not go in. But this one went in and took the air out of the team and the building. That was your final score, 3-2.

If you’re the Blue Jackets, you must win these games or at least get a point out of them especially if your goal is winning a division. We might look back to this game in March or April as a game that could have been a turning point in that race.

But despite the outcome, the Blue Jackets played an overall good game. They win that game much more often than they lose that game. It was a good start in that regard. Now they needed to build off it. They did just that on Thursday against the Kings.

The Los Angeles Game

The last place Kings came into Nationwide. This was a game the Blue Jackets had to have given the opponent. It didn’t start out well as Dustin Brown connected just under four minutes into the game. Was this a sign of things to come?

Nope. Under two minutes later, Lukas Sedlak evened the score. The response was nice to see but getting the response from the bottom-six was even nicer to see. That was Sedlak’s first goal of the season. It seemed to jump start the team. About five minutes later, Artemi Panarin connected and put the Blue Jackets up for good.

The score was still 2-1 late in the second. But then Panarin and Josh Anderson scored 20 seconds apart to put the game out of reach. As has been the case most of the season, the Blue Jackets offense found a way to break through when needed. They’ve demonstrated an ability to strike and strike quickly. That should do them wonders later in the season when games get tighter.

All-in-all, this game was one of their most complete of the season. A quick-strike offense, a balanced defense and a focused Sergei Bobrovsky all came together and gave us the blueprint for what future success should look like. Now could they build off this and do it in consecutive games?

The Anaheim Game

The Ducks were an interesting test for the Blue Jackets. After a slow start to their season, they came to Nationwide Arena 9-2-2 in their last 13 games. This game had the makings of grind it out and battle. It sure lived up to that billing.

Markus Nutivaara opened the scoring. Newcomer Daniel Sprong evened it up on a goal similar to Virtanen’s goal from Tuesday from nearly the same spot. Bobrovsky leaned just a little and the puck found daylight and was in the net. The score stayed 1-1 all the way through regulation. Both goalies, especially John Gibson, stole the show.

The Blue Jackets by most measures should have won this game too. They out-chanced the Ducks. They dominated dangerous scoring chances. They held the Ducks to just 22 shots on goal for the game. But yet they found a way to win thanks to Gibson’s heroics and a perfect shot past a screened Bobrovsky.

Sprong’s second of the night lifted the Ducks to their 10th win in their last 14 games. The Blue Jackets did get a point out of it but could have and should have won this game. Stick taps to both Gibson and Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom as they each earned first-star honors at Nationwide this week. That’s the main reason why Columbus earned just three of a possible six points.

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My Overall Thoughts on the Week

The effort was there this week. The Blue Jackets showed an ability to play solid defense while giving themselves a chance to win every night. The message Tortorella sent to his team after the Washington game was received. There were no issues from an effort standpoint.

Bobrovsky allowed two goals in regulation this past week. It seems as though he is starting to heat up at the right time. As long as the Blue Jackets continue to make defense a priority, they will eventually start to see better results on the scoreboard.

If there is something they need to work on, it’s finding ways to win when the opposition’s goaltender is on fire. When the playoffs get here, those are the kind of games they’ll have to find a way to win every night. They gave themselves every opportunity to win. Now they must take the next step and find a way to win.

They must also find a way to get Joonas Korpisalo some confidence especially given the way Tuesday night ended. The Blue Jackets need Korpisalo through the grind of the season. It’ll be interesting to see when he’ll get his next opportunity. I’m looking at next Sunday in New Jersey as a possibility since it’s the second of back-to-back after playing Philadelphia Saturday.

Joonas Korpisalo Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets will need a confident Joonas Korpisalo as this season moves on. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Road Ahead

The Blue Jackets have just four games left until Christmas. They host Vegas and New Jersey and then play Philadelphia and New Jersey on the road. Again given the opponents, six out of eight points is a reasonable goal. Can they continue the better play despite Saturday’s result? If there’s one thing we’re watching closely here, it’s the mental side of things and how they respond to adversity. They’re doing a good job of that so far but will it continue?

The Blue Jackets are showing signs of life. If they can continue to make strides and then put it all together, they’ll assume their rightful place as part of the class of the Metro. It’s going in the right direction. If you’re a fan, that’s all you can ask for at this time of the season.