Defeatist Mentality - It's Not Just The Team
When talking about the team's 5-1 loss to Colorado on Saturday, new head coach Scott Arniel was clearly frustrated at how the team let the Avalanche take them out of the game.
"Mentally, we get a defeatist mentality," Arniel said "We just have to have the mentality that we're playing hard no matter what's happened."
The coach is absolutely right - hockey is a game where confidence can take you a long way, and you need to believe that you can always get back into a game.
That said, they aren't the only ones who could perhaps use a boost of mental toughness.
Just to recap: The Blue Jackets are currently 6-4. They are in the 7th seed in the Western conference. That's a playoff spot, if the season magically ended today. They're also the only team in the Western Conference who started the season in Europe who are in playoff position. (In fact, of the clubs who went to Europe, only Columbus and Boston are in playoff seeds currently, and only Columbus, Boston, and San Jose have winning records.)
The Jackets have also posted some true stinkers, including 5-2 and 6-2 losses at home.
They have also lost the veteran presence of Ethan Moreau, Kristian Huselius, Mike Commodore, and Jan Hejda due to injury. They missed the presence of Kris Russell for much of the opening month. Their power play started hot in Sweden, then apparently missed the plane for the ride back.
But they're still 6-4. They're above .500. Not bad for a team with a totally new coach, new system, patchwork lines, and a clear amount of growing pains.
Most importantly? This is 10 games. There are 72 left to play.
So why do I hear people thinking it's time to start scouting top 10 draft picks?
That defeatist mentality Arniel mentioned runs through the fans, too - and I'm as guilty as anyone else. After 9 years of disappointments, it's hard to believe that good things can happen to the Blue Jackets. But they can, and they will.
Several people who follow the team have mentioned the fans have a "College Football" mentality - one loss means the hopes of a championship are gone. Two losses mean you'll probably miss the Rose Bowl. Three means the season is officially a disaster.
Given the way OSU football permeates the atmosphere, that's not too surprising - but it is worth considering.
I think we also have to look at how these games are reported. Not every fan goes to the games. Not every fan can watch on TV or listen on the radio. More than a few people in Columbus get their Blue Jackets news from the Dispatch and the Dispatch only.
So, how did they report the last few games?
6-4-0, eighth place in the Western Conference, yet they haven't put it all together in any game. Is this troubling or reassuring? (Little bit of a leading question, huh?)
The Blue Jackets no longer lose, they implode. They collapse under the weight of frustrations, mistakes, missed opportunities and maybe their recent history. (The headline: Jackets Routed Again)
The Blue Jackets had chances early to put a stranglehold on the young, excitable Edmonton Oilers, but couldn't do it. (And remember, this is the lead-in for a game that the Blue Jackets won!)
In a three-day span, the Blue Jackets have beaten the two clubs - Chicago and Philadelphia - that played in last spring's Stanley Cup Finals. (A little lukewarm, but better!)
If this was your main source for news about the team, would you want to come to the rink?
I won't tell you things are perfect, but let's also consider that this, while ugly, was the first time the team has officially lost on the road this year. (Only the second if you count the "home game" in Stockholm.) If you look at the rest of the NHL, every other team has at least one, if not two, road losses. Columbus was the last team in the NHL to lose on the road. Even the Western Conference leading LA Kings are 4-3 on the road. Before that loss, the team had a 3-game winning streak - something they hadn't done in a year. And they are yet to lose back to back games.
We're also not the only team to get blown out at home - ask fans in Chicago how they felt losing 7-4 against the Oilers at home? Calgary at getting blown out 7-1 to Washington? Dallas losing 5-2 against the Kings AND the Ducks on back to back nights? Jersey losing 6-1 to Buffalo? San Jose losing their home opener 5-2 to Carolina? Buffalo losing 5-1 to the Thrashers? The Panthers losing 5-1 to the Stars?
The speed of the game keeps increasing - that means when a defense has a bad night, or a goalie is a bit off his game? It's becoming more and more likely to be a blowout. Also notice that some of the same teams getting blown out are the same ones delivering their own blowouts to other teams - and I wasn't even looking that hard to find games from the past month that looked more like baseball scores than hockey scores - I just focused on teams losing big at home.
The NHL is changing again. It used to be that scoring 3 goals in a game was a certain victory. Now? No lead is truly safe. We just need to get our offense to respond to that situation, and our defense to be aware.
Guys like Rick Nash and Jake Voracek are off to a very slow start, and this DOES hurt the team. I agree wholeheartedly that our captain needs to raise his game and get this team onto his shoulders. I wonder where the Jake who tore things up in the pre-season went to, and when we'll see him back. But I know that their talent will come through. It's a matter of time. They're simply too skilled to not start converting those chances. Kristian Huselius will get healthy, and he will improve the offense. It appears Nikita Filatov is going to be rewarded with more offensive ice time, and I have no doubt he will make an impact. There will be tweaks. There will be changes. Nothing is static.
Our defense will get healthy, and they will improve as they adjust to the new system, taking pressure off of Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon.
But every time we say "Same Old Jackets" and turn our backs, how much harder does that make it for the team? It's not like they can't hear you.
Every time I have spoken to a player on this team they will always tell me that the games get much, much easier to play in when the crowd is cheering for them. The unspoken half of that is that the building is a much, much harder place to get things done when the crowd is quiet - or worse, hostile.
If all the team hears around them is about how they can't win, how they're going to suck, how they'll disappoint everyone again - is it any surprise that perception can become reality?
I'm not saying never get upset about a loss - that's impossible. I'm not saying never jeer or complain when someone plays badly - that's human nature.
But cheer a little louder when they do make a play.
Remember that it's a long road, and we're not even a quarter of the way through it.
Try to see the peaks just as clearly as we see the valleys.
Remind yourself that there are just as many (if not more) reasons to believe this team can win every night as there are to fear they might lose.
And at worst, when the team loses (and it's not if - it's when - no team in the NHL has ever gone 78-4, much as we might hope), try to shake it off and remember there's another game coming up where they'll have a chance to get right back into the win column.
And maybe, just maybe, as the team works to fix the attitude in the locker room, we can help fix the attitude around the town.