The Columbus Blue Jackets finally found their first win of the season on Monday night. It took them overtime to get it.
After giving up a late power play goal in the third period, the Blue Jackets kept it together and pulled out a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. That was a much needed win for many reasons.
How demoralizing would it have been had the Blue Jackets lost this game after the way they lost their first two? They dominated the game from a shots and scoring chances perspective yet couldn’t close the game out in the first 60 minutes.
The good news is they won and had some nice performances in doing so. This was the best game I’ve seen Nick Foligno play in a long time. He scored in the third period and made the play in overtime stealing the puck from Jack Eichel and setting up Alex Texier for the game-winner.
Oliver Bjorkstrand had a goal and an assist and was perhaps the best skater on the ice. He seemed more engaged to make things happen. Perhaps this kind of game will earn him more ice time.
But what’s the big takeaway that I have for these first three games? It’s such a small sample size that you have to be careful the conclusions you draw. But one thing is clear to me. Get ready for a wicked roller coaster ride, Blue Jackets’ fans. This early part of the season is going to take you on an adventure full of ups and downs.
Roller Coaster Ride Forthcoming
Consider what we’ve seen in these first three games. In the Toronto game, the Blue Jackets played a good first 40 minutes then it got away in the third. The Maple Leafs won the game 4-1.
Then the next night in Pittsburgh, the Blue Jackets played a steady 20 minutes. After that, the game went straight down hill faster than the first drop of the Millennium Force at Cedar Point. The Penguins ruined Elvis Merzlikins’ NHL debut by scoring five times in the second period on their way to an easy 7-2 win.
Then to their credit, the Blue Jackets regrouped and got two points when they needed it against the Sabres. I think we have a pattern here we need to get used to, especially when you consider the current makeup of the roster.
What is the recipe for Blue Jackets’ success? Good goaltending, great defense and timely scoring. These were absent in the first two games. It got much better in the third game. Their record speaks for itself in that aspect.
Here’s the thing though. The Blue Jackets again are one of the youngest teams in the NHL. Considering they have five rookies on the roster, it’s no surprise. But it’s also no surprise that they’re going to have rough nights. It comes with the territory. Just ask Merzlikins about rough nights. He had his country of Latvia up at early hours of the morning watching his debut.
While Blue Jackets’ rookies Texier, Merzlikins, Emil Bemstrom, Jakob Lilja and Vladisav Gavrikov all have talent and upside, they are all still new to the NHL. There will be adjustments. There will be mistakes. There will be big mistakes. You must expect that of young players in this unforgiving league. This will frustrate you at times. But they are going through the learning process.
But that’s not all. The veterans are going to have rough nights as well. The Blue Jackets were only able to muster three goals in their first two games. They couldn’t finish their chances. With scoring a major question for this team, there will be nights where everyone struggles. All it takes is a good goaltender among other things to limit your offense.
On the flip side, there will be games like Buffalo where they dominate in most facets of the game. They convert on their power play. They get timely scoring. On these nights, they’ll get their desired result. They will have many of these nights. They’ll also have nights where they’ll win when they don’t deserve to.
So it’s a roller coaster of results and emotions. If there’s anything I’ve learned from these first three games, it’s that we need to expect these crazy swings. The team is still trying to find out who they are and who they want to be this season.
What Is A Successful Season?
The key for the Blue Jackets will be how quickly they are able to figure themselves out. For the veterans, can they consistently get someone rising up to give them their timely scoring? For the rookies, how quickly can they learn and adjust to the league?
One night, Foligno will play a heroic type of game. On another night, Texier can shine and provide a huge boost. But then on another night, everyone will get shut down with no answers. The issue right now in this early part of the season is who knows what will happen when? I sure don’t.
Now the question to consider for the Blue Jackets is this: what would be considered a successful season for them? Of course the team will say the goal is to win the Stanley Cup. But with so many rookies and many questions, the odds of this happening is pretty slim. You never know though.
But with the future in mind, the key is documented, tangible proof of improvement by the team as a whole. When we look at the team in March as compared to now, we should see vast improvement. That comes from experience. Whether it leads to the playoffs is something we won’t have an answer to for a while yet. But if key players demonstrate a vast improvement, that bodes well for future seasons. That should also put them in the thick of a playoff race. In my mind, that improvement and that experience makes for a successful season.
However before we get a successful season, we’re going to get a roller coaster ride. The Blue Jackets have games upcoming against Anaheim and Carolina. They could win both games. They could lose both games. They could split them. They might look like world beaters in one game. But then they might look like they don’t belong in another game. We just don’t know. Anything is possible right now.
Be prepared for some bouts of inconsistency. The Blue Jackets are trying to figure themselves out. Patience is required. Hold on tight. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
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.