The issue that’s causing this team to stumble out of the gate: accountability. Whether it’s from each other, or from the coaching staff, certain guys aren’t being held to the standard that we’re used to seeing in Columbus. Turnovers are happening far too frequently, and then lazy back-checks and defensive efforts are causing the goaltenders to face far too many quality shots against.
Even though they’re a young roster with a bunch of players who probably should be in the AHL, shouldn’t we expect them to at least show up and put forth an effort? Instead, they had 8 shots on goal halfway through the game, against a team whose season average is almost 34 against per game. That’s simply not good enough.
One concern I have is with how the ice time is being distributed, and this leads back to accountability. Josh Dunne, Liam Foudy, and Carson Meyer all found themselves stapled to the bench. Mathieu Olivier and Kirill Marchenko were used only sparingly – which means that the team essentially played the bulk of the game with only 7 forwards. If you read through this list of names, you have four guys who are here to bring physicality and/or speed to the lineup (or, provide energy, if you will).
Yet Dunne, Foudy, and Meyer all played fewer than 8 minutes on Friday night, while Olivier played just under 12. Part of this was the disproportionate special teams time in this game – there were a lot of penalties. But, for a team that needs a spark to get going, wouldn’t it make sense to ice a blue collar guy like Meyer for more than 7:53 in an entire game?
Kirill Marchenko’s ice time also continues to be a concern. I thought he was the team’s best forward on Friday night – with no exceptions. He drew three (!) penalties and scored on the first power-play (from a penalty he drew). His reward? He saw just 9 more shifts after his goal halfway through the game; two of which were under 10 seconds. He played a grand total of 3:32 in the third period.
When we talk about accountability and everyone doing their part; how is it that we’re seeing an incredibly young team actively punishing certain players, while rolling out veterans who are visibly giving less effort? How does Marchenko play so well, but get stapled to the bench when the team needs offense?
I’m not calling for us to go back to the Torts era of benching guys in favor of guys who want to dump and chase. Far from that, in fact. What I’m calling for, is the team to ice the players who are going to give them a chance to win on any given night. Brad Larsen and his staff have shown an antagonizing stubbornness towards letting certain players play, even when they’re obviously the ones who are going that night.
In a season where this team is well out of it, those are the guys who should be playing. Sure, if Patrik Laine is on one of his heaters, he should be on the ice frequently. But did Laine really deserve the 14:39 of even strength time he got? I’m not so sure – he was on the ice for four goals against. In the low-light of the night, he gets hooked on this play, but where’s the effort after the puck is turned over?
Now, imagine that’s Kirill Marchenko, Kent Johnson, or any of the other youngsters on this team. I’d be willing to bet they would not go on to play 19 more shifts (15 or so minutes) later in the game. This is the accountability we’re talking about.
I’m no NHL head coach, clearly. But, if Kirill Marchenko is working hard, scoring goals and drawing penalties, he deserves more ice. If Carson Meyer is working hard, throwing hits and getting under the opponent’s skin, he deserves more ice. If the top guys don’t show up (and they did not Friday), they should roll all four lines and see what happens. At least then they would be fun to watch.