A dip in ice time.
Over the first 34 games of the Columbus Blue Jackets season, Johnny Gaudreau played under 18 minutes in just seven of those games. Over the last six games, from Dec. 31-Jan. 10, he hasn't played more than 17:01 and hasn't registered more than 18 shifts. In Tuesday's 6-3 loss to the Lightning, Gaudreau played a season-low 14:35.
"There's better in him," head coach Brad Larsen said following the game. "He's wearing an 'A'. He's a leader. It doesn't matter who you're playing with. We're missing 10 NHL guys, so whoever's on the ice, you gotta give it."
That sounds like a coach who isn't happy with the play of his star player. Over the past six games, Gaudreau has scored just one goal and two assists for three points, well below his nearly point-per-game average.
Tuesday night's game highlighted his lack of ice time because he played the fourth-fewest even-strength minutes among Blue Jackets skaters, trailing only the team's fourth line of Carson Meyer, Cole Sillinger, and Kirill Marchenko for the least even-strength time on ice.
The only three #CBJ skaters with less than Johnny Gaudreau's 13:08 of EV TOI were Kirill Marchenko, Cole Sillinger, and Carson Meyer.— Coby Maeir (@CobyMaeir) January 11, 2023
In the five games before this recent stretch of six games, from Dec. 17-Dec. 29, Gaudreau did not play less than 18:58 or registered less than 19 shifts and posted four assists in those five games.
Gaudreau is the best player on this Blue Jackets team, and even if he may be going through a tough stretch, he can't help this team, which ranks 30th in goals per game, score from the bench.
Larsen went on "Rothman & Ice" on 97.1 FM The Fan and talked about Gaudreau's ice time and the reaction from the fanbase in response to it.
"It's so blown up," Larsen said. "It's crazy to me. But that's the world you live in. So Johnny Gaudreau is a heck of a hockey player. We know that. We know what he's brought to us and he's done a tremendous job. He's gonna have some down games. He's gonna have some up games."
Larsen added that cutting down Gaudreau's ice time was not an effort to make an example of him.
"Johnny has such a high standard of himself as a player when you talk to him, which is what I love about him," Larsen said." And that high standard needs to be carried every night and he knows it. This isn't something that he shies away from. He's a guy that loves to play and loves to compete and loves to be the difference maker in games."
Additionally, Larsen said Gaudreau is an important part of this franchise and downplayed any ideas of this being a story.
"And trust me, this guy is a key guy to our team," Larsen said. "He's going to be a key guy for a long time. And Johnny's journey has come as advertised. He's such an important guy for us. There's no story here. I don't know why it's been blown up. But when you're losing and it goes like this, that's what happens. You got to find a story somewhere. And that's what we deal with. And we understand that."
Hopefully, for both Gaudreau and the team, this dip in ice time is temporary and he'll start playing at least 19 shifts and 18 minutes a night while scoring at the point-per-game level he's shown he's capable of during his time as a Blue Jacket.
However, until then, this dip in ice time is concerning.