This season, The Hockey Writers will have a recurring “Three Takeaways” feature after every Columbus Blue Jackets matchup, meant to serve as postgame quick hits.
1) Defining Blue Jackets Losses
Tuesday night’s three-goal loss to the New Jersey Devils was — thankfully for the Blue Jackets — a rare sight in the early part of the season. The Jackets have only lost two other games by three or more goals this season. Losses by narrow margins prove they can compete with just about any team.
Tuesday was also the third time this season the Blue Jackets had a back-to-back string of losses, which overall, shows that the team tends to bounce back after defeats. The Blue Jackets have not lost more than three games in a row in regulation this season, which is on par with the top teams in the league.
A quick turnaround after the Blue Jackets’ 3-1 loss to Montreal last weekend led to success against the Carolina Hurricanes, a Metropolitan Division opponent, the next night. Though a few days separate the Blue Jackets from their next match-up, they draw the Devils again on the road in the second game of a home-and-home. The Blue Jackets will have their 4-1 loss top of mind when they head to Newark on Friday.
Friday’s game should speak volumes about what the Blue Jackets are made of. Mentally, they will have to show how they respond to such a big defeat and also prove that they can compete with the “surprise” team atop the Metropolitan Division. As individuals, specific skaters like Lukas Sedlak and Zach Werenski will have to prove they can quickly bounce back from less-than-ideal games.
2) Metropolitan Division Misery
Speaking of the Metropolitan Division, for another season, it is proving to be the “division of death” in the NHL. Here are the standings after Tuesday’s action.
Things get even tighter in Metropolitan Division. Four points separate sixth place from first. pic.twitter.com/3AGUNsLK4b
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) December 6, 2017
One of those six teams will not qualify for the postseason. Pretty unreal when looking at the teams on that list, as well as their win-loss records and their recent history.
On the flip side of that, though, is that several of those teams have been “average” by their and fans’ standards. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals each have 11 losses; higher than many expected at this point in the campaign.
The good news — or bad news, depending on the way you look at it — is that there is a long way left to go in the season. Teams and players still have a lot to figure out. That also applies to the Blue Jackets, who have yet to show a clear-cut identity, and several skaters who have yet to sort themselves out. The two biggest names? Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg.
Notably, the Blue Jackets and Penguins play each other twice at the end of this month. It will be a huge test for both teams that both hope to capitalize on.
3) Next Steps for the Blue Jackets
So, where do the Blue Jackets go from here?
First, as we have mentioned multiple times, they need to figure out the power play. The Blue Jackets had six power play opportunities on Tuesday, and failed to score on any of them. They continue to dig themselves into a hole at the bottom of the league with an abysmal 7-for-81 (8.6 percent) this season, including a 2-for-42 span in their past 15 games.
The power outage is catching up to them and is resulting in losses. A power play goal or two in games where they have had a handful of opportunities but lost by one goal could be something this team has to come to grips with if they are on the outside looking in at the playoff picture in April. Something has to change.
Second, the team’s top six forwards need to live up to their contracts and expectations. This team cannot limp along, relying on secondary scoring and their goaltenders to get the job done. This team has needed someone, anyone, to step up in their time of need and so far, at least one individual has taken it upon himself to answer that call. As previously mentioned, Atkinson, Wennberg, Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky need to step up.
The sooner the Blue Jackets figure those two things out, the better off they will be. Change needs to come sooner rather than later, before the Metropolitan Division race gets even more out of hand.