With just 10 goals to their name since the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25Th, the Columbus Blue Jackets‘ offense has certainly picked the worst time possible to go cold. The team has been shut out in two of their six contests during that stretch and four of their 10 goals came in one game.
That’s not the script the club’s brass hoped for when it traded for Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel of the Ottawa Senators in late February. But they’ve managed to go just 2-4 since then and 4-6 in the past 10 games while their chances of making the playoffs are fading day by day. They now have 15 games remaining in the season to rediscover their scoring touch, but they better do it soon.
Columbus was sitting on the outside looking in on March 8th as they trailed the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes by two points each for the final wild card spot in the East and had a game in hand on the Canadiens. They were also four points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third and final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.
The Blue Jackets blew an excellent chance to gain some ground on everybody in front of them when they were shut out in Pittsburgh 3-0 on March 7th. They now have a chance to amend that loss as they host the Penguins in the second game of a back-to-back showdown on March 9th.
Things don’t get any easier for Columbus after that as their remaining games are against the New York Islanders (twice), Boston Bruins (three), Carolina, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Montreal, Nashville Predators, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.
That’s a tough schedule considering the only teams without a legitimate shot at making the postseason seem to be Buffalo, the Rangers and Ottawa. The rest of the clubs are still fighting for their own playoff lives or jockeying for position to gain home-ice advantage.
Due to the deals made by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen around the trade deadline and the fact the Blue Jackets held onto pending unrestricted free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky there’s a ton of pressure on head coach John Tortorella and his players to make the playoffs. The team’s attitude is to go all out for the Stanley Cup while icing the strongest lineup possible and that’s why they loaded up on and before Feb. 25th.
It’s not just the forwards who are struggling to produce goals at the moment either as blue liners Zach Werenski and Seth Jones are also in a bit of a funk. They’ve posted two goals and five points between them and are a minus-10 since Feb. 25th.
Up front, the team desperately needs some consistent production from the likes of Panarin, Duchene, Dzingel, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Josh Anderson and Cam Atkinson as well as the supporting cast. These six players have scored just three times since the trade deadline with Atkinson notching two of them.
When Duchene joined the Blue Jackets he had 27 goals and 31 assists under his belt in 50 games. However, he’s notched just a lone goal and two assists in eight outings with Columbus and hasn’t scored a point in the last four games. Dzingel has 22 goals and 24 assists on the season in 63 matches, but has chipped in with just two helpers in half a dozen appearances with his new team.
Since the squad’s leading scorer Panarin and goaltender Bobrovsky are likely to walk away from the organization for nothing as free agents in July, the team has placed all its eggs in one basket for a lengthy playoff run this year.
Some experts have applauded the club for going for broke, but the future could be pretty bleak for the Blue Jackets if they fail to reach the postseason. Not only are they likely to lose Panarin and Bobrovsky, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to re-sign Duchene and Dzingel to new contracts either as both are also scheduled for free agency in the summer. The club paid a lot for the additions in late February, but the cupboard could be bare with nothing to show for it if they also decide to leave town.
It’s obvious Dzingel and Duchene are taking longer than expected to gel with their new teammates and get used to their new surroundings. This is also a prime example of why NHL teams should try to improve their rosters well before the trade deadline if possible. Duchene was acquired a few days before Feb. 25Th, but it’s hard to understand why the club waited so long to pull the trigger. Columbus may now run out of games before the newcomers finally get back on the right track.
It’s also a bit baffling for fans as to why Tortorella didn’t start Bobrovsky against Pittsburgh on March 7th unless he’s injured. The team is desperate for points and needs to go with their top goalie as often as possible. The team threw caution to the wind by making the trades for Duchene and Dzingel so why be cautious now when it comes to the goaltending situation by playing backup Joonas Korpisalo?
Perhaps Tortorella was taking Bobrovsky’s recent performances against Pittsburgh into consideration when making the decision since the netminder had allowed fewer than four goals against the Penguins just once over the past two seasons.
The Blue Jackets’ lineup is definitely good enough to reach the postseason and possibly cause some damage this spring. But they’re up against it as Carolina is red hot right now, the Penguins have found their groove and Montreal has been playing well. On the bright side, it just takes one of these teams to slip up with a bad week to put Columbus back in the driver’s seat.
But even if Carolina, Pittsburgh or Montreal do begin to falter, the Blue Jackets won’t be able to take advantage of it unless their offense, which includes six 20-goal scorers, suddenly reappears out of nowhere.