The Blue Jackets have blown leads in 19 of their 31 games this season – including multi-goal leads in 9 of those games.
Obviously, yours truly doesn’t have access to the locker room, so I can’t say for sure what’s causing this team to change the way they play in the third period. What I am certain of: they are changing the way they play in the third period. If you’re watching the games, you see it. Even if not, just look at the way the games are turning out.
Overall this season, the Jackets are playing at a -18 goal differential. They’re playing through the first two periods at a solid +9 differential…which means they are -27 in the third period. Whether it’s coaching adjustments, inexperience, or the players just playing a safer (more timid) game; this team is completely falling apart in the third period on a way-too-often basis.
Last night was the most blatant example of a team collapsing, as I’ve seen in over 30 years watching hockey. For 40 minutes, we saw a team that swarmed the puck carrier at every turn. They took away time and space, supported each other; and were making short, crisp passes to move down the ice as a unit.
As soon as the puck dropped to start the third period, they fell into that terrible “prevent” defense. Nobody wanted the puck on their stick for more than a half second. Nobody was pressuring the puck in the defensive zone. You could see it on the first Toronto goal, where the Jackets were way too slow to get to their marks. When you leave time and space for skilled players, they are going to make you pay – no matter how far ahead you are in the game.
This is the problem that has plagued this team all season long. When they are playing well, they are marking their checks quickly, giving each other easy passes, and forechecking hard. With the lead, they’re dropping into a 1-2-2 coverage scheme and no longer doing the things that has gotten them the lead to begin with. Look at the time and space the Leafs have on the game-tying goal:
If it’s a coaching adjustment that is being made, I’ll go as far as saying that it’s time to seriously question whether or not we have the correct coaching staff. We’re more than a third of the way into the season, and that’s plenty of time to figure out how to make adjustments to playing with the lead. This is the NHL.
If it’s not a coaching adjustment or a scheme change, the problem lies between the ears of the players. In that case, is it possible that the early season benchings and healthy scratches have led to them playing in fear of making a mistake? That’s something that can also be fixed by the coaches. Either way, they have to change in their third period approach – and again, that falls onto the shoulders of the coaches.
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Whatever the case, this team needs a shakeup in a bad way. I don’t expect them to fire Pascal Vincent just three months into his NHL head coaching career. So it falls on him to make the necessary changes to his approach and help this team figure out their third period funk. That’s the job he signed up for, and time is of the essence here. We’ll know by season’s end, if he was the right guy for the job.