The Blue Jackets lost their fourth straight game Monday night, dropping a 5-3 decision to the Stars in Dallas. One way they can come out of this funk? They need to get Johnny Gaudreau going offensively.
We’re nine games into the NHL season, and after a respectable start, the Blue Jackets have fallen to 7th in the Metropolitan Division; with a 3-4-2 record (8 points). They’ve dropped four in a row. All of the games have been pretty close, with two games heading to overtime, and the other two being separated by just two goals. They just can’t seem to find enough offense right now.
This team is extremely young, and I do expect them to go through rough patches of play as they try to gel. But, the best players have to lead the way, which is something that I think they could do better. At the top of that list is arguably the team’s lone superstar: forward Johnny Gaudreau.
It’s not that he’s been bad. In fact, he’s been playing pretty much as expected, but has been snake bitten as far as goal scoring thus far. Still, the team has to find a way to change the fact that their best player has only 4 assists through the first 9 games of the season. Two of those assists came in the second game of the year; meaning he has just 2 points in their last 7 games. The Jackets are 2-3-2 in that time.
Compare that to last season, when Johnny had 5 goals and 8 points through the first 9 games. Even though the season was awful, he was generally productive throughout and finished with 74 points in 80 games played. At this point? He’s playing at a roughly 36 point pace, which would be far and away the worst of his career. Quite simply, I don’t think that will maintain itself for long. Johnny is too good. But, something has got to change to help him get out of this funk.
The question I have here is: how can the team help him get going?
I said earlier that I don’t think Johnny has played poorly. He’s stuck to his game of controlling the pace of play when he has the puck. He could be a little bit quicker, perhaps. That’s about the only change I can say could help from his perspective.
From a team perspective though; it certainly seems like that line has missed Kirill Marchenko over the last couple of games. His big body and willingness to go into the corners to retrieve pucks, makes it easier for Gaudreau to have time and space in the offensive zone. Reuniting the two could be a nice start. Aside from that, I feel like a fresh look at center might help. Boone Jenner is terrific in all aspects of the game, but that line definitely needs a spark, and could use a little more speed. That said, I don’t even know if the Jackets have someone to plug in there right now; unless they feel like Adam Fantilli is ready to assume that #1 center role.
Maybe the biggest difference we’re seeing, is the absence of Patrik Laine. Without him in the lineup, it’s easier for teams to throw their top shutdown players at the Gaudreau line, without serious risk of repercussion. Sure, the other lines for the Jackets can score – but they can’t make you pay with a quick strike on a consistent basis.
No matter what the solution is, the team needs to find it fast. They need more productivity from Johnny Hockey if they’re going to maintain pace with the rest of the NHL this season.