The Blue Jackets: Who We Thought They Were?

For those of you who follow the National Football League (NFL), you’ll recall when then Phoenix Cardinals’ coach Dennis Green exclaimed, in the middle of an epic meltdown, “We are who we thought they were!”

And, in light of my recent articles – Blue Jackets First Quarter Assessment and Assessing Scott Arniel – I now offer, with great humility, this notion as to whether the new and improved 2010-2011 Columbus Blue Jackets are who we thought they were.

Are the Blue Jackets merely a team who storms out of the gate – an early tease, only to be followed by an impending freefall?  Or, are the Blue Jackets a team who can expel the demons of last year’s debacle, one in which they experienced a 3-14-7 freefall after opening the season with a 12-6-2 record?

Similarly to the 2009-2010 season, the 2010-2011 Blue Jackets stormed out of the gate with a similar 14-6-0 record.  However, unlike last season’s start, rife with indications that a potential meltdown was in the offing, this years’ Blue Jackets accomplished this start by accomplishing feats never before achieved in their 10-year history:

  • A franchise record for the most points at the 20-game mark of the season
  • Franchise marks for their historic West Coast sweep
  • Their greatest margin of victory in a game
  • Having two separate goalies post back-to-back consecutive shutouts
  • An 8-1 road record, and
  • Countless other positive indicators

But, just when you thought obtaining Stanley Cup playoff tickets were a sure thing, along came their first taste of adversity:  consecutive losses (a home-and-home series) against the Detroit Red Wings, followed by a Shootout loss at home to Central Division nemesis the Nashville Predators.

And what appeared to be a ‘must win’ game against the struggling Buffalo Sabres ended with a resounding thud – a 5-0 loss – a game in which were it not for the efforts of NHL-leading (GAA and Save%) goaltender Mathieu Garon, would have resulted in losing the game by a far greater margin.

To make matters worse, the Pittsburgh Penguins come into Columbus on a tear, with eight wins in a row and a record of 9-0-1 in their last ten games.  Sidney Crosby, arguably the best player in the NHL, is playing on another level, one even he’s not accustomed to.  Crosby has a fourteen game point-scoring streak, registering 15 goals and 14 assists – 29 total points – over than span.

If that weren’t enough, Marc-Andre Fleury has also recently caught fire.  Fleury, who’s been in goal through the entire 9-0-1 run, has posted a Goals Against Average (GAA) of 1.83 and a Save% of .937. In his last four wins, Fleury is 4-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a Save% of .967.

So, it will take a supreme effort for the Blue Jackets to end the losing skein.

Every team goes through a funk.  Even the Detroit Red Wings, the NHL’s premier team, lost consecutive games during the early part of the season.  But it witnessing the recent slide and considering recent history – perhaps in hindsight – I analyzed how those teams that the Blue Jackets were so successful against were playing as of late.  And what I found was that maybe the Blue Jackets might not be who we thought they are.

The Blue Jackets obliterated the St. Louis Blues by a score of 8-1.  This was unprecedented not only by the margin of victory but because of the history against the Blues, one in which St. Louis has beaten, bullied and rubbed the Blue Jackets’ face onto their own floor mat.  Upon further review, however, St. Louis has since gone into their own tailspin, having lost four games in a row and posting a 3-7-0 mark in their last ten games.

As previously mentioned, the Blue Jackets then successfully swept all three West Coast teams, a feat previously never accomplished in the history of the organization, and against three teams which posted a combined home record of 21-3-1.

Since that historic feat, those three teams have also struggled:  Los Angeles has gone 3-7-0 in their last ten games; Anaheim has gone 3-5-2 in their last ten games; and San Jose has done the best of the three, but that is with a 5-3-2 during that same 10-game stretch.

So, for the eternal optimist’s who think that a loss to the Penguins would be a mere speed bump in their losing streak, thus extending the streak to five games, a look at the upcoming schedule makes you reconsider that notion.

After facing the Penguins, the Blue Jackets host the Dallas Stars, also one of the hottest teams in the NHL with five wins in a row and a record of 7-2-1 over their last ten games.  The Stars are leading their division and are tied with the 2nd best record in the Western Conference.

The road doesn’t get any easier after that: the Blue Jackets visit the St. Louis Blues, and after the “chippy” play by St. Louis at the end of Columbus’ 8-1 victory, one should expect a game with an NC-17 Rating.  In short, hide the kids for this one won’t be for the faint of heart.

The Blue Jackets follow their visit to St. Louis by hosting the much-improved New York Rangers, a team with a healthy and productive Marian Gaborik, as well as a cast of highly-effective defensemen and a world-class goalie in Henrik Lundquist.

And if that weren’t enough, the Blue Jackets then embark on their first Northwest Canada road trip, against the Vancouver Canucks, who are tied with the Dallas Stars for 2nd place in the Western Conference standings; the Calgary Flames who, while struggling this season, is a place which has been a chamber of horrors for the Blue Jackets; and the Edmonton Oilers, who have won three games in a row, and who possess the greatest combination of young players in the NHL, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.

As I’ve mentioned, all teams go through a an ebb like this; however, given the recent history of a tailspin which followed a landmark start to the season, a team with a penchant for fragility in the face of such adversity and with the impending games that await, we will now find out if the Blue Jackets are indeed who we thought they were.

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