The Blue Jackets went into Washington on Saturday night to play a game that they could have won. While they didn’t come out with the result they wanted, this loss is a step towards longer-term growth.
It wasn’t an easy night for the Jackets against the Capitals, a veteran team who can still play some good hockey. A dominant opening period by the good guys meant very little, as the Caps struck for two goals in the final 8 minutes, taking a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. The score line didn’t reflect the game’s start, however: the Jackets held a 14-8 shot advantage, and a 30-13 advantage in shot attempts.
They would finally break through early in the second period, with Dmitri Voronkov tipping home a Kirill Marchenko shot to narrow the lead to 2-1. But the Caps controlled the play basically from that point, until early in the third period, when the Jackets took the game over again. They would have another strong period in the third, but could not find the equalizer. They dropped this one 2-1, in spite of a 35-27 advantage in shots on goal. Ultimately, they just ran into a hot goaltender.
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) November 5, 2023
The most shocking storyline to come out of this game: superstar forward Johnny Gaudreau was benched for most of the third period. He played just 11:55; not seeing the ice after his last shift ended with 16:07 left to play. He remained on the bench through a Blue Jacket power-play, and did not play when the net was empty and the team was trying to find a tying goal.
This decision can be looked at from a couple of different perspectives. Right up front I will say this: the Jackets lost at least in part because they didn’t play their most talented player when they needed a goal. I would be lying if I said they couldn’t use his skill when down a goal. But, with that in mind, I fully agree with Pascal Vincent’s decision to keep him on the bench.
We wrote just last week that Gaudreau wasn’t producing at the level we’re used to seeing from him. Even last year, when the team was terrible and loaded with AHL players, he managed to score 74 points. But so far, he’s scoring at less than a 40-point pace, and he has looked disengaged quite a bit out there. Something is not right with Johnny; whether it’s an injury, or his undisclosed personal issues at home. Whatever the case, I hope he’s working through it and getting the help he needs to get back on track.
But, Pascal Vincent has to coach the team the right way. This means playing the players who are giving this team the best effort on any given night. By doing that on Saturday, he makes a clear statement to everyone in the organization: it does not matter how much money you make, or how many points you have scored in your career. The best players are going to play on any given night, and on Saturday, unfortunately, Johnny Gaudreau was not one of this team’s best players.
The Jackets may have lost that battle, but they took major steps towards winning the war. Accountability applies to everyone, not just the guys at the bottom of the roster. Hopefully this will be a message received loud and clear, and the team will be better for it.