Three Thoughts On The Columbus Blue Jackets Disappointing Weekend

By Dan Dukart on November 20, 2023 at 10:15 am
Sean Kuraly and Mathieu Olivier skate off the ice after loss to the Philadelphia Flyers
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Last weekend, the Columbus Blue Jackets had two games, blew a lead in both, and slipped to 1-5-4 in their (then) past 10 games.

Somehow, things have only gotten increasingly worse since then. They lost all four games this past week in regulation and basically played 'failure bingo'. They blew leads, looked lifeless, benched star players, and somehow saw their power play get worse.  

Here are three thoughts on the state of the organization after a disappointing weekend: 

Benching Laine

Patrik Laine was a healthy scratch on Sunday, the first time he was out of the lineup without an injury in his 471-game career. Head coach Pascal Vincent has now benched his two best players - Laine and Johnny Gaudreau - in the same game (Thursday against Arizona), and also kept them completely out of the lineup in a separate game.

On the one hand, I commend Vincent's fearlessness to try to change the culture, raise expectations, and make it clear that he has expectations for each of his players, regardless of pedigree, contract, etc. 

But this just feels like a strange decision. The team is on a league-worst stretch, dying for goals (they scored two or three in all our games this week), and is atrocious on the power play (more on that in a moment). Wouldn't Laine, who is paid handsomely to help, help? 

Evidently not. And as Coby Maier wrote last week, it's probably fair that Vincent made the right choice to bench his star forwards, and that it's fair is what is most concerning.

Can You Just Decline The Next Power Play?

No, but it's crossed my mind. The Blue Jackets power play went 0-5 on Sunday, but somehow that doesn't even begin to tell the story. The team managed one shot on net in those five opportunities and gave up a goal to the Flyers while on the man advantage. Put another way, the Flyers managed more offense while penalty-killing than the Blue Jackets did on the power play.

If you can believe it, the Blue Jackets power play isn't last in the NHL. At 9.8% (6/61), it's 30th, which is more of an indictment of the Capitals and Blues than anything else. The club has given up two shorthanded goals this season, meaning that on any given power play, the club is only slightly more likely to score than be scored-on. 

There has been plenty of discourse online regarding who wears this burden. For the longest time, I'll admit that I felt it was coaching. Hell, I wrote about John Tortorella-coached teams always having mediocre power plays, and that was in 2019. Four years later, and it's hard to say with conviction that it's just coaching. I mean, how many different coaches and assistants have had their kick at the can?

And now, with the team mired in arguably the worst stretch in the franchise history, I've come around. It's the players. It's obviously the players. The players are unable to enter into the offensive zone, they're unable to sustain zone time, they're unable to funnel pucks toward the crease, they're unable to generate high-danger chances with royal road passes. Same as it ever was. 

What Exactly Is The Next Step?

So, where do we go from here? I'm genuinely unaware of the mental and emotional state of the players, but it's not hard to imagine a high level of frustration. I mean, this team was expected to take a step this year. Playoffs, perhaps not, but something resembling progress

Vincent is playing the long game, trying to instill a tough-love environment. But does management have time for that strategy, when they were directed by ownership to be significantly better this season? And do the players even respond positively to Vincent's hard-line diplomacy in the first place? 

Trades? Another coaching change? A front office shakeup? Who can say? But as they say, it's getting late early in Blue Jackets land.  

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