Last night's loss to the Dallas Stars was painful for several reasons - being the first of the year is never fun, but in particular seeing the team battle back on the strength of Ryan Johansen's two goals and then fail to pull themselves ahead was a frustrating time.
It's pretty obvious that the team was struggling with the Stars speed early, and had issues adjusting their forecheck. But even once they began to get their feet under them, other problems began to rear their head - and in some cases, they've been showing up since game one in Buffalo.
One and Dones
If you look at a lot of the goals scored so far this year, you see some great individual efforts. Jack Skille's hard charge up the wing against Enroth. Nick Foligno going above and beyond against the Rangers. Ryan Johansen's snipe off the dot last night.
But they also have something in common - they are the result of one guy either getting space and making it happen, or bursting through the neutral zone and turning that momentum into a clear shot.
Watching last night's game in particular, the amount of one and done shots or dumps into the zone was noticeable - and that lack of offensive pressure makes life a lot easier for any defender.
By contrast, you have the Jackets' power play goal last night, or Cam Atkinson's first goal against New York - the product of concerted pressure, keeping the zone, and putting guys at the net where they will be able to do damage.
The overreliance on single efforts has a distinct whiff of the Bad Old Days, and has to be coached against. There will always be times to take advantage of miscues or to find the lane, but this team has been at their best when they work as a group, and they need to follow that. Keep the puck moving, hold possession in the offensive zone, and good things happen.
Speaking of which:
Get To The Net
If there was a theme last night, it had to be missed opportunities. Too many times the Jackets put a puck through the crease or off the end boards looking for a redirect or tap-in, and nobody was home. Some credit should be given to defenders for this, but in almost every game (the win against New York perhaps being the exception), players were more likely to be on the perimeter.
It's particularly confusing in the case of a guy like Scott Hartnell, who has previously made his bones by getting up close and personal around the crease.
Which brings up one last thing I've been noticing:
Do The Work.
Please don't get me wrong - I am glad that Ryan Johansen is making an impact so quickly after his hold out, and that guys like Foligno and Cam are benefiting from it, but even at three games in, there's a marked drop in players on the scoreboard - or, if you're looking at things like the scoring chances and zone entries over at BS Hockey, the guys who are generating opportunities.
There's a marked shift from the "top line" to the rest of the roster in terms of generating offense and carrying play into the offensive zone, and that's dangerous. This roster was assembled to be a four line team - relying on your top players to generate the offense while others try to (ineffectively) stop the bleeding elsewhere is a recipe for major trouble.
It's early, and three games is a VERY small sample size to look at, but the team has two days of practices and video before they meet Calgary on Friday, and that means it's a chance to stop the bad habits before they start.
This team can roll their opponents over when they put the work in, and make sure that all four lines (and the defense) are pushing play up the ice. The coaching staff is aware of this, and they've been pushing that philosophy among the calls to "play fast."
Will getting players like Dubi and Jenner back help? Absolutely. But the guys on the ice can't wait for them - these games matter, and we've seen what a difference a good start can make.
The players have been on board with this, and I don't think there's a conscious decision otherwise. But when it's clear there are problems, you can't just hope they'll go away.