The Columbus Blue Jackets entered the weekend just barely out of a playoff spot, having earned five points in four games against Carolina and with a chance to collect a crucial four points against the bottom-dwelling Detroit Red Wings.
So of course the Jackets left Motown with two regulation losses and are close to being as near to eighth place as to fourth place. The worst part is that neither game was particularly competitive. With what was at stake, this team should have come out on a mission to prove what they’re capable of.
Apparently there was a team meeting after Saturday’s bad loss:
#CBJ taking longer than usual to provide players for post-game Zoom interviews. Smells like a team meeting after the 3-1 loss to Detroit.— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) March 27, 2021
It must have been about figuring out which restaurants were still open in Greektown, because it certainly wasn’t about how to come out and play better hockey today. You’d hope they’d respond to a bad loss with an aggressive first period, but instead they had just three shots on goal in the opening frame.
Detroit drew first blood with a 1-on-4 goal. Yes, you read that correctly. The Other Svechnikov, Evgeni, somehow managed to score while the rest of his line made a change. Patrik Laine ended up down low, Michael Del Zotto was up high, and not one of the four Jackets challenged the puck-carrier. As the pickle on this s*** sandwich, Gabriel Carlsson shielded Elvis Merzlikins (who had a great game today with NO help). Gabe, buddy, what are you doing here? There’s no other traffic around the net, so let your goalie have a clear view to stop a low danger shot.
It was all Detroit for the first 30 minutes, but finally in the back half of the second period, the Jackets made a sustained push. They were rewarded with a goal thanks to great hustle by a line of Cam Atkinson, Jack Roslovic, and Oliver BJORKSTRAND:
This is what we want Blue Jackets hockey to be. Roslovic lays a bit hit on the forecheck (and yes, there probably could have been icing on the play. Let’s ignore that), then immediately goes to the net. Atkinson retrieves the puck along the wall and immediately gets it to an open BJORKSTRAND. BJORKSTRAND doesn’t hesitate; he immediately fires on net. Roslovic was perfectly positioned to deflect the shot into the goal. WHY CAN’T THEY DO THIS MORE OFTEN?
Even after this goal, I didn’t feel comfortable that the Jackets could find a way to win. Not since the first week of the month did we see them close a game out in regulation. The broadcast noted that Detroit was 0-20-3 this season when tied or trailing entering the third period. That’s when I knew we were doomed.
The Wings got their game winning goal early in the third. Again it was Carlsson and Del Zotto on ice for it. After Robby Fabbri shot the puck and chased his own rebound, somehow Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber thought it was wise that both of them go after him. This of course left Michael Rasmussen wide open in the crease to score. Boone Jenner was coming on the ice as part of a change and couldn’t get there in time.
John Tortorella challenged for goaltender interference but any contact between Rasmussen and Elvis was after the puck was already going underneath Elvis’s leg.
Detroit added not one but TWO empty net goals, because of course they did.
This team looks like they’ve literally never practiced together before— Temple (@yolo420swaggg) March 28, 2021
In a sentence I never thought I’d say: yolo420swaggg makes a good point there. Certainly the shortened training camp may have hurt someone like Max Domi who had to learn a new system, or Alexandre Texier who had to learn a new position. Certainly you’d expect an adjustment period for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic when they arrived after the season started, with even less time to practice with the team. And yet, they actually played well at first, then have stagnated like the rest of the roster. After 36 games, every player should know what they’re supposed to be doing. There should be some cohesiveness. Even if the lines are shuffled, each one is expected to play Blue Jackets-style hockey, with aggressive forechecking, backchecking, and opportunistic chances the other way. We saw very little of that over the last week. When we do see it, it’s only for a few shifts at the time. Frankly, that’s more frustrating because it proves that they do, in fact, know what to do.
I don’t want to blame effort, because I think that’s usually an unfair criticism. I think these players do care. I don’t think they’re happy or content to lose like this. I do think there’s a lack of confidence and trust, and it’s hindering their ability to just play. Certainly there are deployment issues which are the responsibility of the coaches, but the remains of that equine have been sufficiently flogged to this point and frankly I’m bored with it. Ditto trade talk: we all know that the veteran UFAs should be traded between now and two weeks from Monday. Why keep them around? They’re not a critical component of this team’s success because, well, what success?
Up Next...and beyond
It’s snowbird time on this road trip, as the Jackets travel to the Sunshine State for games at Tampa Bay on Tuesday and Thursday, and a weekend back-to-back with the Florida Panthers.
I’d say something about “we really need X points this week to stay in the race” but I think we’re past that. I still want this team to make a push for the playoffs, but after this weekend I am past hoping for that. I still think the ability is there on paper to be competitive, but at this point it’s clear this team as currently constructed and coached will not reach its potential. There are not enough games left, and too many are against teams which are clearly better.
Instead, what I will look for more than wins are for signs of improvement. Give me more and more shifts where the Jackets play with aggression and assertion. Let’s see more of Dean Kukan (who has never deserved to be scratched this season) and Mikko Lehtonen (activated to the active roster today). Let’s get Liam Foudy (recently healthy and called up from Cleveland to the taxi squad today) back in the lineup. Keep Texier at center, where his line with Foligno and Jenner has been one of the better ones during this otherwise awful weekend. Play the guys who are definitely part of the team next season, so management can figure out how best to supplement the roster over the summer.