The Blue Jackets entered this weekend with one of the toughest back-to-backs they would face all season. They hosted the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, winning by a 4-3 margin in the shootout – then travelled to Washington to face the Capitals just 24 hours later, where they dropped a 1-0 game. This is a very positive return for this team, and we can look to one specific reason for their sudden improvement.
On Friday, Brad Larsen ran a “more intense” practice for the team. This came after they’d suffered another two consecutive losses – by a cumulative score of 10-2. In fact, over its last 10 games prior to Friday, the team had an embarrassing 1-9-0 record, with a 37-13 goal differential. Not good.
The heavier pace of practice Friday paid immediate dividends as the team was able to upset Metropolitan Division leading Carolina on Saturday, and then give Washington all it could handle in a tight-checking loss on Sunday. The concerning thing here is, this is the second time the intensity of this club’s practices has come into question already this season:
It would be easy to blame this season’s fortunes on injuries or the overall youth of the team. But on too many nights, this team just isn’t showing up to play; which is the only thing we should consider unacceptable as fans.
Often, we’re seeing everyone tip-toe around placing blame or redirecting the conversation elsewhere. But I’m not afraid to say it: this team’s overall carefree, low effort play lies directly at the feet of the coaching staff. The players are here to play, and the coaches are here to coach. It’s up to the coaches to get the players to achieve and maintain a higher level of play.
There are 44 players under contract with this organization right now, and it’s up to this coaching staff to get the guys who are here, on this team, on the same page and ready to play each and every night. That hasn’t been happening, regardless who has been in the lineup.
Even when the roster was healthy to start the year, this team stumbled out of the gate. Too often they come out with no energy, no forecheck, and are one and done with their offensive chances. In my opinion, this could be a direct result of the way they’re practicing.
The only way for young players to improve in this league is by being held accountable to their actions. John Tortorella spent years developing a culture of accountability, where every player was held to an equal standard as far as work ethic goes.
Now, by no means am I saying that Torts was right 100% of the time. But what is not debatable is that this team worked hard under his management (that is, until the team tuned him out in his final year). Accountability is huge in sports.
We should not be in any hurry to go back to the country club attitude that surrounded this team in its early existence. If we want to lift a Cup in Columbus, the practices should be intense. This is the NHL, and if guys aren’t working hard in the games, they should be working hard in practice.
The adage “you play like you practice” really is true. Having been around successful teams before, I can attest that players who battle together against each other, will battle harder for each other. That’s the benefit of holding each other accountable.
With such a young team, you can expect them to have their share of mistakes. Turnovers will happen, missed opportunities; that’s all part of the growing process. But if they hold each other accountable and everyone pulls the rope with a high level of intensity, they will have success. The positives can outweigh the negatives.
While the season is essentially over, as a fan I would expect nothing less than the absolute best effort from every player on the roster. Most of these guys should be playing for jobs next season and beyond. So should the practice intensity begin to lapse again, we’ll see it in the on-ice results. Hopefully the coaching staff, and management, and ownership, will see it as well.