The Blue Jackets dropped an uninspiring 4-0 game to the Washington Capitals on Saturday night that left more questions than answers. Namely, how is this team not ready to play in that game?
The stage was set for an exciting night in Ohio's capital city. First place in the Metropolitan Division was up for grabs on a Saturday night against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. You know, the team that won all three games in Columbus in last season's 4-2 opening round defeat.
To say the Blue Jackets laid an egg would be understating it.
One of the most tired adages in hockey is that teams want to be "hard to play against in our building." It's tired mainly because it's something that every hockey team strives for, and the good ones manage to achieve. A home ice advantage is something that the Blue Jackets have failed to establish at Nationwide Arena.
Why should anyone go to Nationwide Arena if youre going to see the same song and dance night after night?— SB (@Sam_Blazer) December 9, 2018
Frankly, visiting teams have absolutely no reason to fear coming into Nationwide Arena. History is on their side. Aside from the aforementioned playoff unraveling, in which the Blue Jackets took a 2-0 series lead back to Columbus, the club is off the an underwhelming 7-6-1 start at home ice to open up this season, compared to a solid 9-5-1 away record, which ranks among the best in the NHL.
But it isn't just the record that's concerning.
A decade ago, most Blue Jackets would have gladly taken a .500%+ winning percentage, but that may be the only thing that's changed at Nationwide Arena in the past decade. As we wrote about earlier this season, the Blue Jackets in-game experience is bland at best, and mind-numbingly boring at worst. The DJ spins the same tunes, the promotions are stale, and the crowd is more excited for a nightmare-fueled Papa John's free pizza giveaway song (is it a song?) than anything that happens on the ice.
In trying to appeal to the family, the casual fan, and the long-time hockey nut, the game presentation somehow misses everyone.
In a classic chicken-or-the-egg deal, Blue Jackets fans respond to the Blue Jackets inconsistent and, at times, seemingly apathetic play with, well, apathy. Saturday night's game felt over after 20 minutes, and, as my out-of-town friend that I took to the game said: it felt like a weekday game, or a preseason game, or maybe both. That shouldn't happen. The building emptied in the third period and we wondered aloud after the game if we should have been a part of the exodus. Instead, we stayed to a smattering of boos as the players left the ice, which was emblematic of the game itself.
It wasn't a raucous Flyers crowd that absolutely embarrasses its players, nor a Maple Leafs game from 2014 where a fan threw a jersey on the ice. It was an indifferent, disinterested crowd.
Captain Nick Foligno hit the right tone in his post-game comments, calling the game "disappointing" and acknowledging that the team must fix its home record.
Sitting in the bottom third of the NHL in home-ice winning percentage is a difficult recipe for making the postseason, much less having success while there. And while every regular season game counts for the same two points in the standings, it's unfathomable how a team could play such a lifeless game on a night with such legitimate promise. The silver lining is clear: the club plays its next five games on home ice, all before Christmas. There's a real opportunity to put the debacle against Calgary and the lifeless affair against Washington far in the rearview mirror. With people coming home for the holidays and looking for a social night out, I can't help but wonder if casual fans will choose a Tuesday night Blue Jackets game over anything else in town.
The Blue Jackets have made a habit of not showing up at home when it counts the most. And it's hard to fault the fans for following their lead.
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