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Jackets try to stay confident despite bad start

Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 1:00 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Jackets try to stay confident despite bad start
The Columbus Blue Jackets are off to the worst start in franchise history as they arrive in Boston for a game against the red-hot defending Stanley Cup champs.

BOSTON -- The Columbus Blue Jackets have become blind to the big picture. Not only can't they see it anymore, they wouldn't even want to look out of fear of nightmares.

It's the middle of November, they've played just 17 games, won only three of them, and entered Wednesday night 12 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Jackets finished 16 points out of a playoff spot last season, but that was after 82 games.

"One of the goals at the start of the year was to take things in game segments," Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash told NHL.com Wednesday night from the team hotel. "Now we've been through the period segments and we're down to minute segments to try to simplify things and just worry about that. We dug ourselves a huge hole, but we're worried about the first five minutes of (Thursday) night's game and that's it."

The Blue Jackets arrived in Boston early Wednesday evening and had to slog through more than an hour's worth of rain-filled traffic to get from the airport to their hotel near Boston Common. It was just another slap in the face to a team that already has some seriously-bruised cheeks.

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They are 3-13-1 for a franchise-worst seven points through 17 games.

Their franchise goalie, Steve Mason, the 2009 Calder Trophy winner, has been inadequate -- and that's only a mildly off-putting word to describe his bloated 3.63 goals-against average and far too low .875 save percentage in 16 appearances. Both numbers put him last among starting goalies in the NHL.

Columbus doesn't even have the luxury of spelling Mason with an experienced backup. GM Scott Howson said Monday that he is looking for help in that department so Allen York, he of the four games of NHL experience all from this season, can go back to being groomed in the American Hockey League.

"I really believe Steve is going to be a good goalie in this League for a long time, but he's gotta find the consistency he had in his first year," Howson said.

It wasn't until the previous two games that the Blue Jackets played with both of their prized offseason acquisitions, defenseman James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter, in the same lineup. Tuesday night they coughed up a 2-0 lead en route to a 4-2 loss. But they beat the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Saturday.

Nash hasn't been much help either with as many points (12) as he is a minus. He has just four goals; two have come on the power play, which is 28th in the NHL at 11.7 percent.

"It really tests everything about you as a person and as a player," coach Scott Arniel told NHL.com about the Jackets' season-long slump. "You like to think you have the right team and you like to think you have the right answers, that your game plan is sound, but when you continue to lose it really takes a lot into question. You have doubts and you start to get frustrated."

Somehow, though, Columbus' confidence isn't totally eroded. Oh sure, it is has been smashed, stepped on, had dirt kicked on it, been spit on and laughed at, but it still exists. Nash also said Arniel's voice remains a powerful one in the dressing room and the team's chemistry is still strong.

"That makes everything so much more frustrating in that you have great guys in the room and guys get along, but you can't seem to put it together on the ice," the captain said.

The Blue Jackets still believe they can.

"On paper we have a great team," Nash said. "It's a matter of going out there and doing it."

But, can they go out there and do it inside TD Garden on Thursday night against the defending Stanley Cup champs, a team that has won six in a row by a combined score of 34-13?

"For sure," Nash added. "This is the type of game we need to win. We're playing the best team in the League from last year and this is the kind of game that we need to win to get us rolling. It's tough, but this is exactly what we need and that's how we look at it."

By now, you're probably wondering how in the world this type of confidence still exists in Columbus' dressing room. It's fair to ask, and amazingly the Jackets say it goes back to the brutal fashion in which they lost some of the early games this season.

They blew leads in the third period and twice gave up chances to win in regulation by allowing goals in the final minute. The worst of all came against Ottawa on Oct. 22, when Jason Spezza scored a 4-on-4 goal with 36 seconds left to tie the game and Milan Michalek potted a game-winning power-play goal with 4.7 seconds remaining in regulation.

"On paper we have a great team.  It's a matter of going out there and doing it." -- Rick Nash


Nevertheless, the Jackets figured out then that they can at least compete in this League.

"We have lost five games when going into the third period tied. That's pretty incredible," Wisniewski told NHL.com. "If we win all five of those games now we're among the top teams in the Western Conference, but we've lost every single one."

Columbus finally bottomed out in a 9-2 loss at Philadelphia on Nov. 5 when it gave up roughly a dozen odd-man rushes in the first period alone. Arniel spent the next four days completely overhauling the system to ensure the Blue Jackets try to cover more of the middle of the ice.

They had growing pains in a 6-3 loss to Chicago, but the system worked in a 2-1 win against the Jets and for about the first 30 minutes against the Wild on Tuesday.

"Then we had a too many men penalty and they scored two goals in 20 seconds," Nash said. "In the third we found our way again, but we couldn't finish and that has been the story all year, can't score.

"But, I don't think it's a step back at all. We made good progress against the Jets and had another good solid 30-40 minutes against Minnesota. We're going to have to squeak games out that we think we should win."

They're going to have to squeak out a lot of them just to get back to respectability. If that means they have to start with a good first five minutes Thursday night at TD Garden, then so be it.

Belief or not, anything is better than what they've been so far.

"We're starting over," Wisniewski said. "It starts right now."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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