Young Blue Jackets Must Learn to Finish Games

The Blue Jackets couldn’t hold on to a 3-0 first period lead Tuesday night (Dec. 14), surrendering three third-period goals in a 4-3 loss to the Canucks in Vancouver. It marked the second consecutive game in which the Blue Jackets blew a three-goal lead in the third period. They failed to hold on to a 4-1 lead to the Kraken Saturday in Seattle before winning 5-4 in overtime.

Getting Ahead and Staying Ahead

After scoring three goals on 12 shots in the first period Tuesday, the Blue Jackets registered zero goals and nine shots in the second and third periods combined. Conversely, the Canucks, who were out-shot by Columbus in the first period, ended up out-shooting them 39 to 23.

Following Tuesday’s collapse in Vancouver, head coach Brad Larsen lamented, “We didn’t play for two periods. I’m not sure what happened, why we stopped playing. You knew they were going to be better. It wasn’t like that was a big surprise, but we just didn’t have the jam for two periods. We hung on and hung on and hung on, but we didn’t deserve to win.”

Eric Robinson Columbus Blue Jackets
Two first-period goals from Eric Robinson helped the Blue Jackets take an early lead in Vancouver, but they couldn’t hold on. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Blue Jackets have scored first in 14 of their 29 games so far this season. They’ve won nine of those games, but they’ve relinquished that early lead in 10 of them. They’ve also blown leads of two or more goals on four occasions, losing two of those games (Tuesday against Vancouver and Nov. 20 against Vegas).

Keeping the Foot on the Gas Pedal

When a team gets a big lead, it can be easy for them to take the foot off the pedal and play more conservatively, which can lead to more scoring opportunities for the opposing team. This can be especially true for young, inexperienced teams.

According to Elite Prospects, the Blue Jackets are the third-youngest team in the NHL (average age of 25.23) and the second-least experienced (5,444 combined games played in the NHL). They also a have a first-time head coach in his first season.

Trouble holding on to a lead can be exacerbated when playing on the road, as the Blue Jackets have the last two games. Not only do they have to deal with an attacking team trying to fight back, they also have to deal with a home crowd that will become more and more energized as they chip away at the lead, which will in turn energize the home team.

Learning to Play with a Lead

The remedy is a mixture of different things. Veterans like Gustav Nyquist and Jakub Voracek, and team leaders like Boone Jenner and Zach Werenski, can help steady the team and keep up the energy when playing with a lead. As he gains more experience as an NHL head coach, Larsen can figure out ways to keep his guys fresh and attacking for three full periods.

Jakub Voracek Columbus Blue Jackets
Veterans like Jakub Voracek can help the young Jackets keep up the intensity (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The experienced goaltender tandem of Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo can provide consistency and stability in net. In addition, the return of sniper Patrik Laine should help the team maintain aggressiveness offensively.

The young guys will also become more comfortable playing with leads as they gain more experience doing so. As much as Tuesday’s collapse was a tough pill to swallow, it can be a learning lesson going forward for the up-and-coming Blue Jackets.

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Despite their recent troubles playing with big leagues, the Blue Jackets are still 14-12-1 through their first 29 games, which is better than many expected coming into this season. In a tough division like the Metropolitan, every point is important, and the team can’t afford to leave points on the table or miss out on points altogether, like they did Tuesday night.

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