Columbus Blue Jackets must find a consistent path to success

The Columbus Blue Jacket’s season so far can be summed up in one key stat. It shows a story of two different teams. Let’s look at their house/street division.

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Blue Jackets are having a very respectable score with the score 9-3-1 at the friendly tournament Nationwide Arena. It looks like the crowd and cannon are doing a great job providing energy for the home team while distracting the opponent. But that’s a whole different story down the road.

The Blue Jackets are just 4-8-0 on the road as they head into Saturday’s game against the Seattle Kraken at the Climate Pledge Arena. This includes a five-game losing streak stretching back to November 27, a 6-3 loss at St. Louis. Their last road win came in Buffalo on November 22, a 7-4 win over the Sabers.

So what’s for here? Why do we have a case of Blue Jackets playing Jekyll & Hyde based on the game’s position? What are they sick on the road and what can they do about it? We will try to give some answers here although it is not the easiest task to complete as each game is independent and different things happen leading to the game outcome. But perhaps some trends can be discovered.

Disasters on the Great Road

We covered the five-game losing streak the Blue Jackets faced in the match against Kraken. A glance at their stats presents an ugly picture.

The Blue Jackets have been 23-10 behind in those five games and have conceded at least three goals in all of them, including conceding five or more times. The obvious place to start is their defence. In each of those five games, you can point out passages where they look absolutely overwhelming.

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Too many errors. Too many incidents. Too many chase games. This leads to more scoring opportunities for the opposition while expending most of their energy trying to play defensively. And when the defense is in chase mode, the goalkeeper can only do so much. You could argue their two best matches of that trip were the one that Daniil Tarasov started. He limited the Stars and Capitals to 3 goals each and allowed his team a chance to win.

But that leads to part two of the mess on their way. There simply aren’t enough goalscoring goals. Scoring 10 goals in five games won’t lead to many wins, especially when they’re averaging almost five goals per game (4.60-2.00 per game.)

Once the game got out of control, it was a downward spiral from which they could not recover. The crux of this is that the team cannot recover. It’s clear that they’re dealing with a lot of issues in these games that can’t be blamed on a single player. All in all, the whole team struggled.

Not only are they having a hard time, but they’ve never been to most of these games. It’s not even close. They certainly played the Stars to 3-2 and stayed for most of the night before the Capitals before falling 3-1. And rightly so, they dominated the third game in Toronto before losing 5-4. But the reason they had a chance to prevail in the third half was because they were down 5-1.

One sign of a good team is being able to manage the game when the opponent is pressing. That good team can withstand the pressure and turn the game in their favor. So far, Blue Jackets have not consistently demonstrated the ability to turn momentum in their favor after an opposition ambush. That third period in Toronto was encouraging as they were able to overtake the Leafs 3-0. But they couldn’t have played that kind of game earlier when the Leafs had all the momentum.

When the key moments in the game come up, the opposition will run away with the opportunity only to see the Blue Jackets follow them. If the team wants to start being successful on the road, they have to do even better at managing the key moments.

There will be hits. There will be momentum fluctuations. Winning and losing is often determined by how a team handles those situations. Who will stand up and make a game changer? Who stands up under pressure and who rushes? There hasn’t been enough of this from the Blue Jackets and it is reflected in their achievements on the road.

The opportunity to correct mistakes while on the road

There’s no time like now for Blue Jackets to start prepping for it on the road. They began a five-game trip in Seattle and then headed to western Canada before heading back east to Buffalo to finish off the trip. This trip is considered their most difficult task so far this season.

After facing the Kraken, the Blue Jackets traveled to Vancouver, then Edmonton, and then Calgary before heading back east. In other words, these first four games feature teams of…

  • 1. Seattle: beat all of Florida, Carolina and Washington this season.
  • 2. Vancouver: on the rise after hiring Bruce Boudreau as head coach.
  • 3. Edmonton: yes Connor McDavid and others ready to dominate.
  • 4. Calgary: is one of the hottest teams in hockey thanks to its renewed focus on defense.

Don’t count Buffalo in that final game either. By then Blue Jackets will be traveling around the country to finish off their trip. How much energy will they have left knowing that they will be home soon? Coach Brad Larsen will have to make sure his team is ready.

Brad Larsen Columbus Blue Jacket
Brad Larsen has a tough job on this road trip making sure his team is ready every night. (Amy Irvin / Hockey writers)

The task ahead will be difficult but not impossible. If Blue Jackets want to succeed on this path, they need to get back to the basics and do the things that make them successful.

First, they have to keep their game simple and within their structure. All of these teams have players good enough to break open games on their own. Blue Jackets have to do the little things well (complete pass, finish, accurate reading) when given the opportunity.

Second, they have to win against special teams. This is one of the areas where they have done very well throughout the season. But it takes on more importance on the road and against teams that will challenge those units. They have to keep the game at five against five as much as possible.

Third, their defense must step up. Too often, the opposition get a free and clear path to a scoring opportunity. Then when one person goes in, 2-3 other people come in right behind it. They need to play well in front of their goal while trying to keep the boys out. Easier said than done. But they have to start somewhere.

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Fourth, their offense needs to be productive. Two goals per game is not enough. They have to go through long periods of pressure and control of the game. The longer they attack, the longer the opposition has to defend. Some guys have struggled in recent weeks. They need to figure out their game in order for the team to give themselves a chance.

Ultimately, for now, the players need to find their form again regardless of who started. Joonas Korpisalo has recovered from his illness. Elvis Merzlikins is expected to start most games (including Saturday night in Seattle), but he needs to find consistency. He was pulled at the start on the road recently in Nashville and Toronto. It wasn’t all his fault but he had to find a way to make excellent saves in key moments.

A new beginning

The beginning of the trip is a new beginning for Blue Jackets and an opportunity to find success and consistency along the way. If they can apply things from above, they can stay in these games. But if they concede 2-3 quick goals like they did in the recent laning games, it could be a long ride.

This trip will push the Blue Jackets into 2022 on a high or it will raise some serious questions around this season. They don’t need to go to 5-0. But they certainly can’t draw 0-5. If anything, this trip will show how much they have learned from their recent experiences. Have they memorized these lessons?

Keep it simple. Win special teams. Step up when the opportunity arises. That’s the formula the Blue Jackets will need if they hope to return home feeling good about themselves after this long road trip. Columbus Blue Jackets must find a consistent path to success

Subhankar Mondal

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