The Columbus Blue Jackets fell in a shootout on Sunday night, extending their point streak to 10 games (6-0-4).
That's the glass-half-full view of the Blue Jackets, who have been playing a more consistent brand of hockey for the past month or so. But this month (and really this season), a troubling trend has appeared: a struggle to win games once the game goes beyond regulation time.
The Blue Jackets have played into the extra period in five of their past nine games, but have won just one of those five games (a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, courtesy of a Pierre-Luc Dubois overtime goal). On the season, their record in overtime/shootout is 5-8, including 0-2 in shootouts. What is contributing to this inability to finish games? Here are a few issues:
Penalties Kill Momentum
The Blue Jackets have taken penalties in four of their past five overtime games. They've lost four of their past five overtime games. It doesn't take a genius...
It's a bad habit, and it needs to be curtailed immediately. Playing shorthanded - let alone 4v3 - is asking for trouble. The Blue Jackets were fortunate to kill off Nick Foligno's high-sticking penalty on Sunday. They weren't so fortunate on Friday night's loss in Washington, where Nathan Gerbe's hooking penalty led to T.J. Oshie's game-winning power-play goal.
Then there's the opportunity cost of playing shorthanded. Even if the team is successful in killing off the penalty (a tall ask in its own right), it's 40% of the total overtime period, and weathering the storm becomes the priority at the cost of going on the attack.
In a 3v3 format, skill reigns supreme. Say what you will about this version of the Blue Jackets, but even if they were 100% healthy, they may not have the horses to successfully compete best on best against some of the top teams in the NHL.
Injuries have only exacerbated that, to the point where Alexander Wennberg (two goals), Foligno (four goals), and Boone Jenner (seven goals) were key contributors in the overtime session on Sunday night's shootout loss. All due respect to all three of them - they're all serviceable and versatile NHL players - none of them are particularly well-suited for 3v3. The only other two forwards to play in OT - Gus Nyquist and Pierre-Luc Dubois are simply better equipped for the up-and-down skill showcase. The two combined for this OT winner earlier this month.
To clarify, this isn't Wennberg/Foligno/Jenner's fault. With injuries to key 3v3 participants like Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, and Oliver Bjorkstrand, John Tortorella has no choice but to play his more defensive-minded players in an attempt to give his best OT players - Nyquist, Dubois, Zach Werenski, and Seth Jones - a chance to briefly recover between shifts.
Worth mentioning: Alexander Texier, who's skill set seems tailor-made for 3v3 overtime, didn't play a second in overtime.
Holding Third Period Leads Would Be A Good Strategy
The Blue Jackets know their margin for error is already razor-thin. With injuries mounting, (at the risk of sounding obvious) finding a way to avoid an overtime session would go a long way. In both of their last two games, the Blue Jackets went into the third period with a lead, only to squander their advantage and lose after regulation. After strong first periods in both games, the club was unable to keep their foot on the gas when the opposition pushed back. Losing in overtime is clearly preferred over losing in regulation, as the 'loser point' is the NHL's version of holding serve. But if the Blue Jackets are to find a way to climb into the playoff race, those points that are left on the table will prove to be crucial.
While the Blue Jackets have gone 6-0-4 in their past 10 games, there is reason to believe that they could be banking even more points. But with injuries plaguing the team, it may be some time before fans can feel optimistic heading into overtime.