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Blue Jackets Must use Tough Stretch to Their Advantage

The Blue Jackets are in the middle of a tough December stretch, and the biggest tests remain and loom large.

New York Rangers v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

It was just a little over a week ago I wrote about not getting too high or low with these Columbus Blue Jackets.

Yeah, so this past week was a perfect practice what you preach moment, eh?

Since then they’ve proceeded to chuck aside their two worst games of the season, two 7-2 losses, a win against the Islanders that nearly got away from them after staking out to a 3-0 lead, and another loss to the Hurricanes.

This started out on a bit of a diatribe as you can tell. Then Columbus answered with a vengeance Wednesday night, in arguably one of their best efforts all season, against the Maple Leafs.

First the bitter.

This was a quote by the captain following Monday’s loss. “It’s been a while since I’ve been this disappointed in a game.”

What, does last Tuesday against the Oilers qualify as ‘a while?’

Nick Foligno also cited a lack of emotion and a lack of care following the Jackets’ 7-2 stinker Monday night in Boston.

The players have to say the right things. Your captain is going to be mad, angry, upset. But words are hollow, this team just went through this, and they hadn’t been particularly great before Monday’s Boston Massacre.

As Matt Calvert said, talking goes so far. You have to bring it to the ice.

Wait a Sec

I’m not saying this team is done, was done, or the season is over, but I also don’t trust this team to practice what they preach on a consistent basis. Because that’s the issue. It’s been an issue since Columbus shocked the world with 16-straight a year ago.

Recently, The Cannon colleague, Ryan Real put together a thought-provoking piece regarding the Jackets seemingly not being good enough for some. Believe it or not, I feel very much along those same lines. I am not that person to say the team will not make the playoffs, or that things can’t change with over 40 games remaining.

The issue for me with this team is when the same mistakes are present.

While it might be tough for all teams, in any sport, to always give a full-100 percent every single night, it just rang an issue with how the repeat of Edmonton seemingly festered. Zach Werenski was “embarrassed” after the 4-1 Devils game before that.

The challenge I have for this team is to prove that you really are a team that cares about the little details. Every night. No more leaving your goalie out to dry, or not coming with emotion.

We’re past that, and there’s no excuse for it at this stage.

These things do happen and you can take solace that it is December and not March. John Tortorella is the right coach to grapple with this challenge. The players are young and they have had an excellent bit of adversity recently to learn from.

Hey, we all need adversity because it’s how you cope with that, do you ultimately learn and grow.

Taking the Next Step or flatlining?

I went back to Tortorella's press conferences following the streak-buster against Washington, and the pre-and-post game, following the next game against the Rangers. He talked about still waiting to see the club's identity: "who we are."

On the one hand, that's coach speak. But it also parallels to the very situation we are in now. Tortorella also talked about luck during the streak. Things haven't bounced the Jackets way as much this year, and they find themselves at the most critical schedule juncture.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Are they going to ultimately find themselves with a back against the wall mentality, or will things snowball?

If anything positive can come out of the Boston shelling, fresh off the heels of wanting a response following Carolina, and the disappointment against Edmonton, is this team does ultimately find their response.

Things can get so bad that it forces a real tough evaluation. Think about an earlier time in life, college for instance, and that I have to fly right mindset.

If a few bounces go against you during a bad stretch but the determination and effort are there, sometimes you just get beat. If you are playing through a stretch where your effort is questioned, this is the time to see who collectively steps up. And not just for a few games here, and a period there.

Remember when the Capitals thumped the Jackets 5-0 to end the record win streak? Though I can’t speak for anyone else, while it was disappointing to watch that, particularly for me in Caps country—the Capitals may as well be the Penguins to me—the team had just won 16-in-a-row. Losses do happen. Sometimes, ugly losses.

I was watching that game in Richmond, Va, with my friend Karl, who I grew up with in Ohio and went to elementary school with. He had told me he was interested in seeing the clubs’ response following the end of the eventual streak.

Tortorella addressed the club after that game to reiterate the impressiveness of that streak. Then he talked about being intrigued by the response following adversity, and that’s the ultimate measure.

Embrace Adversity

I go back to earlier this season when Tortorella talked about expecting real adversity. He expected a real slump.

In a no time like the present to assess the situation, Columbus fought adversity prior to their impressive showing against the Leafs. Werenski missed the contest with a body injury. In that game, the fourth line opened the scoring. The power play looked as good as it was going back to last year. Details, emotion, were all there.

Joonas Korpisalo continues to thrive in his limited starts.

They’ll have their chance to answer up to the next challenge with the Penguins, first tonight, then next Wednesday, with the league-best Lightning at the end of the year.

If last season—the 16-game winning streak—emphasized an element of luck, and if this season is evening out a little bit, we're still going to see the true mettle of this club. Either they halt these inconsistencies and play like they talk about being capable of, or it gets worse.

Losses happen. A repetition of mental relapses and lack of caring should not be a recurring theme. That’s how a skid snowballs into something larger.

Columbus comes off a full-60 minute effort Wednesday night against the Maple Leafs, where they played as they are capable of. Now they have to continue that edge against an even larger test in Pittsburgh where you expect the emotional lift. I’m definitely going to be watching for more of Wednesday, and none of Monday. Tonight, Saturday, and onward!