The Columbus Blue Jackets have now lost eight games in a row with their last win being on Nov. 2nd when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning by a 4-2 final score. A lot of things have gone wrong for the Blue Jackets this season, from Zach Werenski and Patrik Laine getting injured early in the season to Johnny Gaudreau’s scoring slump. With that being said though, they don’t have the worst losing streak of the 2023-24 NHL season. That honor belongs to the San Jose Sharks who lost their first 11 games of the season. As someone who covers both teams, I’ve noticed a few differences and similarities between the two losing streaks. There are certainly a few things that the Blue Jackets can learn from the Sharks in order to end their streak.
Playing as a Team
One similarity between the two teams is that they often have moments when they play as individuals rather than as a team. When Werenski went down with the aforementioned injury following a hit by Garnet Hathaway, players said it was dirty after the game, yet nobody stood up for him on the ice. A similar situation happened with the Sharks when they played against the Vancouver Canucks on the same night the Blue Jackets got their most recent win.
During the Canucks’ sixth goal, Kaapo Kahkonen got run into and went down with an injury. Instead of any of the Sharks standing up for him or even checking on him, Andrei Kuzmenko of the Canucks went over to check on him while all of San Jose’s players skated to the bench. There’s some difference, given one is a skater and the other is a goaltender, but the general principle remains.
Playing as a team means standing up for one another. The Blue Jackets certainly did so on Oct. 20th when Rasmus Andersson of the Calgary Flames injured Patrik Laine, as Erik Gudbranson immediately went after him. That’s a major improvement from what we saw a week earlier, but since then, it seems to change on a nightly basis whether or not the Blue Jackets are willing to stand up for their teammates. The first key to winning any game will be playing as a team and not as individuals. If they aren’t able to do that, then they won’t be leaving with two points.
Goaltending is Key
A goaltender can steal a game on any given night, but it’s much easier for them to do so if he’s getting help from those in front of him. The Blue Jackets are playing the Philadelphia Flyers tonight, the same team against whom the Sharks got their first win of the season, and a big part of the reason they were able to do so was a strong goaltending performance. The Flyers’ goaltending behind Carter Hart isn’t the strongest, and given the fact that Hart played last night (Nov. 18th) against the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s likely that Samuel Ersson will get the start against the Blue Jackets. Against the Sharks, Ersson allowed two goals on only 19 shots.
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The Blue Jackets tend to sustain more pressure than the Sharks were at that point in their season, which means, in theory, they should get plenty of goal support. Whether Columbus will run with Elvis Merzlikins or Spencer Martin has yet to be confirmed. It’s likely going to be Martin since Merzlikins also played last night. He hasn’t been phenomenal per se, but Martin has outperformed expectations and has also shown he can make some timely saves. Getting a strong performance out of him will massively increase the Blue Jackets’ chances of leaving Philadelphia with a win.
Don’t Make Rash Decisions
It’s clear that the Blue Jackets management, and even the coaching staff in some cases, has fallen out of the fans’ favor. General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen and possibly even President of Hockey Operations John Davidson are likely on borrowed time at this point and don’t have a long future in Columbus. However, making a decision out of desperation could do more damage than good. When the Sharks’ losing streak reached double digits, fans started calling for their head coach, David Quinn’s job simply because there was no clear solution moving forward. Similar to the Sharks, this doesn’t seem like a coaching issue that’s causing the losses but rather the way the roster was constructed. Pascal Vincent seems to have been put into a situation where he had almost no chance of success. The roster is still a work in progress, and the hiring and firing of Mike Babcock during the offseason left little time for the team to prepare properly.
A management change will likely come in the offseason, but making a drastic move during the season is difficult for many reasons. Not only does it create uncertainty for the rest of the organization, especially the players, but there aren’t many readily available replacements. As much as fans won’t like to hear it when a team is this far back by American Thanksgiving, the season is usually a loss. There are exceptions of course, but things don’t look great for the rest of this season. Considering it’s difficult to get a gauge on the coaching from what we’ve seen, and making a change higher up is even more difficult, it’s probably best to let things run their course and fight through the adversity for the time being. It’s going to be painful moving forward, but making the move in the offseason will likely be the best possible decision.
The Blue Jackets losing streak is one of the worst the organization has ever experienced. There are things that certainly need to change if they’re going to end it, but as the Sharks proved earlier this season, nothing lasts forever.