The Columbus Blue Jackets dropped their second in a row on Saturday night, this time a 4-0 loss to the league-best Boston Bruins. Things started out well for the Jackets, who controlled much of the play early on, before the Bruins ultimately took the game over and dominated the final 45 minutes. In the end, this up and down play may all just be part of a greater plan.
Really, their early season standings aren’t that surprising. This is a team with some glaring holes in a variety of positions. It’s still a really young roster that’s geared almost entirely towards development of the younger players. The only surprise for me, really, is the fashion in which they’re losing games – especially most recently. The effort hasn’t been there, and that’s unacceptable. But things will get better. They always do.
The rebuild – or “reload”, to quote Jarmo – was started last summer with an eye on being a competitive team in 2-3 years. That reload was accelerated by the signing of one of the game’s most elite wingers, Johnny Gaudreau, this summer. A lot of fans thought this would mean an easy playoff spot for the team this year, but that is turning out not to be the case. When you look at the whole picture, you should have seen this coming. I’m still shocked at the results of this poll:
Championships in today’s NHL are won down the middle, and on defense. Look at the Colorado Avalanche or the Tampa Bay Lighting. Even the 2019 St Louis Blues. All of these teams had quality centers and a very strong defense corps. Now, what are the glaring holes for the Blue Jackets? See the correlation?
The Jackets are rolling out Boone Jenner, Jack Roslovic, Cole Sillinger, and Sean Kuraly down the middle. They not only lack a true #1 center; the argument could be made here that they lack a #2 center as well. Jenner and Roslovic have been good in stretches, but neither of them have held that kind of role with success for the long-term. Sillinger is great, but he’s only 19 and is showing clear signs of the dreaded sophomore slump.
On defense, the situation isn’t much better. They lack a top pairing guy to play alongside Zach Werenski. Nick Blankenburg looks like he could fill that role, at least in the interim – but he’s out of the lineup with an injury. Their second pairing is probably OK, if we’re assuming it’s Vladislav Gavrikov and Andrew Peeke. The third pair leaves a lot to desire – but I think that’s a situation that could be corrected if the team added a true #1 defenseman to play with Werenski. They would eat up more minutes, and shelter that third pairing a little bit more.
To top all of this off: to win championships, you need solid goaltending. At least, above average goaltending. To this point in the season, that hasn’t happened for the Blue Jackets. Both Elvis Merzlikins and Daniil Tarasov have struggled behind this defense. Often they’re getting hung out to dry, and confidence seems to be generally pretty low between them. There a certainly a lot of issues with this team right now.