It's a tale as old as time: the Columbus Blue Jackets playing to their opponent's level, for better or worse.
In what's been, to this point, a rollercoaster of a season, they've seen results all over the board against different opposition. Encouraging for John Tortorella, then, is that his team sits 14-8-2 and one point behind Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division despite these issues.
And after a way-too-close-for-comfort victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night, the blind spots were exposed that the Jackets have struggled with: consistency against different tiers of opponents.
Columbus has found wins over the Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche and recently the Toronto Maple Leafs, all top-end teams in the league in terms of points.
However, they've also been handled by the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Arizona Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings, all in the lower echelon of teams in the league.
"We go up 5-1, and we think it's point night."
This has been a struggle for the Blue Jackets for the past few seasons, in these years of regular-season success that hadn't been seen before. They can battle with the best of them and show flashes of elite-level hockey, but then have a tough time putting the bottom-feeders away.
As of late, though, the Blue Jackets have seemed to continue to take this message to heart. Though Monday's game against Detroit is a minor setback, the club's consistency in the month of November was a good sign.
Tortorella sees the issue and continually reminds his team that there's no such thing as an easy game in the NHL anymore, if ever there was. Every game is a battle for two points, and you don't want to look back in April wishing you got that extra win against the Kings in October or November.
"There's no easy nights. It's an opportunity to learn a lesson here. We're very fortunate (that) we're on the right side of it here tonight," Tortorella said Monday night. "Things are never safe in this league anymore."
Tortorella has been on a grind of referencing today's NHL as the "Find-A-Way" (FAW) league. No opponent is worth overlooking, and you have to dig deep manufacture wins and points even when your game isn't totally sharp.
For the Blue Jackets to continue to make strides towards the top of their division as well as the 'FAW' league, they need continue to grow into a team that is ready to play their best game every night – because opponents aren't taking them for granted anymore, either.
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