Playing at home last night, with the return of talented players Patrik Laine and Adam Boqvist; the Blue Jackets iced probably the most talented lineup they can put together with their current collection of players. This is the lineup that would have been easily penciled together before the preseason, and a lot of fans might have thought “playoffs”. But, if last night is indication, this team’s identity is missing in its current iteration.
We talked last week about this team finding its identity, and it really seems to be ringing true. Gone last night were two players who have brought an energetic spark to the team: Justin Danforth and Nick Blankenburg. Is it really possible that pulling out these two undersized, blue collar players, and replacing them with two highly talented former first round picks, actually hurt the team?
At first glance, it seems like that’s exactly what is going on. The team had no jump last night, looked careless even when they had a man advantage, and didn’t even push back until the game was 5-0; when it was well out of reach.
That isn’t to say that Laine or Boqvist were the problem. They’re terrific players, both signed to longer-term contracts for a reason. But Danforth and Blankenburg both bring a shift by shift effort that can get the bench going, even when things are tough. Both guys will battle against opposition players – regardless of size – while also bringing speed and some offensive upside.
In short, they’re underdogs … and that’s exactly the mentality that this team needs to rally around. They’re picked by a lot of experts to finish well outside of the playoff race, and early returns seem to indicate that will ring true. But, this is a talented team that can score in bunches, and should be able to out-score a lot of their defensive question marks. If they’re in the battle, they can seemingly play with – and beat – any team in the league.
We saw it in flashes against Pittsburgh, really for a long stretch of that game the Jackets were taking the fight to the Penguins. They dominated the Rangers the very next day, walloping them 5-1. But last night, against Arizona, they fell flat on their faces. I think that ties directly into losing good locker room guys; energy players like Danforth and Blankenburg. The mix just doesn’t look right without them.