Since the Jackets acquired center Matt Duchene three games ago, and integrated winger Ryan Dzingel and defenseman Adam McQuaid on Tuesday night vs. Pittsburgh, the Jackets have been searching for the right mix of chemistry to take this experiment to the next level.
Sure, the first two games - wins at Ottawa and at home vs. San Jose - were shutout victories, with the Jackets simply having too much talent for the undermanned Senators and then playing a heck of a team game less than 24 hours later vs. the Sharks.
But in each of those games, the team still seemed to be feeling out how to get Duchene best integrated at 5-on-5 play. The additions of Dzingel and McQuaid into the lineup brought more adjustments Tuesday against the Pens, and the result was a 5-2 loss to the team's Metropolitan Division rivals.
The feeling-out process wasn't the only reason the Jackets lost - head coach John Tortorella deemed a sluggish start at home vs. a banged-up team as unacceptable, and Columbus fell victim to some odd goals as well - but the team's rally from a 3-0 deficit was short-circuited by a few plays in which it appeared the team made one too many passes.
"Oh yeah, there always is," captain Nick Foligno said when asked if there was bound to be an adjustment period. "Let's be honest, those guys are all used to playing with the puck. There's a feel to the game, too, that, 'OK, Bread has a certain whatever this way,' (or), 'Dutchy plays this way.' There's a feeling out process for sure, and you knew it was going to happen.
"You can see there's some chemistry as well. It's just going to take some time."
Of course, there isn't a ton of time - the Jackets are down to the final quarter of the season, with just 20 of the 82 games left, and wake up Thursday morning on the wrong side of the playoff line going into the contest vs. the Flyers.
The Blue Jackets went through a similar situation a year ago when forwards Thomas Vanek and Mark Letestu as well as defenseman Ian Cole were brought in at the deadline. Columbus beat Washington the night of the deadline but then went out west and dropped games vs. Los Angeles and Anaheim.
Then, it appears, something clicked. The Blue Jackets won 10 straight games and earned points in all but two of the last 17 games on the way to clinching a playoff spot.
So there's some experience dealing with this sort of process, but it has to come quickly. Tortorella said the team doesn't use the most complicated of systems, so that's not a huge problem, though there are some specific things in situations like faceoffs that have to be hashed out.
When it comes to the magic word of chemistry, though, that must be sorted out in games. The Blue Jackets didn't have it vs. Pittsburgh, prompting Tortorella to return center Pierre-Luc Dubois to the top line between Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson while Duchene returned to play alongside former Ottawa teammate Ryan Dzingel and Oliver Bjorkstrand. From there, the team's game seemed to improve, and it appears Dubois will remain with his season-long buddies vs. the Flyers while the two former Sens will play with Bjorkstrand again.
On the back end, McQuaid's debut was also a bit uneven, and it probably didn't help that he had to miss a big chunk of the second period after an awkward hit on Bryan Rust appeared to leave him dazed. Tortorella said Wendesday, though, he was happy with how attentive McQuaid was to the team structure and was doing his best to not overload him with thoughts of how to handle on-ice situations.
In fact, for Tortorella's money, the biggest issue was just making sure the team is ready to play vs. Philadelphia.
"The way we played last night with the energy level up and down, we're not going to win," Tortorella said. "So hopefully it'll wake them up."
Know the Foe
The December call-up of goaltender Carter Hart - and his subsequent play - as well as an eight-game winning streak in late January and early February left Philadelphia with illusions that a playoff berth was possible after a rough start, but the Flyers have come crashing back to earth since then.
Part of it is that Hart, the 20-year-old who seems to have solidified the team's notoriously shaky goaltending position for years to come, is out for at least this week with a lower-body injury. The youngster had just hit a rough stretch as that happened, and the Flyers have lost three of four heading to Columbus.
With the team currently seven points behind Pittsburgh for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot, it appears unlikely Philadelphia will make a postseason run, and the team admitted it when it dealt Wayne Simmonds to Nashville at the deadline.
Preventing goals - the Flyers have gone through seven goaltenders and allowed 3.33 goals per game this year, 28th in the NHL - has been the biggest problem. Brian Elliott is expected to get the nod vs. Columbus, and he's 15-8-7 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. Those numbers have been boosted by his play of late, including a .949 save percentage and 1.69 GAA in his last eight appearances.
Simmonds (16-11-27) was seventh on the team in scoring, with Claude Giroux (19-46-65) leading the way per usual. Sean Couturier is the only Flyer to top the 20-goal mark with 25 among his 59 points, while former Jackets forward Jakub Voracek has a 17-37-54 line.
Power-play success: Philadelphia enters at 76.8 percent on the PK, fourth-worst in the NHL, while Columbus has scored a power-play goal in two straight. Making it three would be huge.
Get at Elliott: The Philadelphia goalie has been known to be up and down, and he's been up of late. Hitting at his confidence early could be key.
Back on track: This game isn't as much about the opponent as it is the Jackets. After a performance that disappointed pretty much everyone vs. Pittsburgh, coming out and playing the right way is the key Thursday night.
Columbus has won the first three games of the season series. … The Jackets are 12-0-1 in the last 13 games at Nationwide Arena vs. the Flyers. … The game is expected to be the 500th of McQuaid's NHL career but just his second in Columbus. … Zach Werenski has assists in three straight games, while Oliver Bjorkstrand has points in three straight (2-1-3). ... Columbus held the Penguins to 0-2 on the power play and has now killed 53 of the last 57 opposing power plays.
Blue Jackets Projected Lineup
Subject to change
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Ryan Dzingel - Matt Duchene - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Eric Robinson - Riley Nash - Brandon Dubinsky
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Adam McQuaid
Scratched: Alexander Wennberg, Lukas Sedlak, Markus Hannikainen, Dean Kukan, Keith Kinkaid
Roster notes: Columbus practiced Wednesday with the same lines it had used Tuesday in the loss to Pittsburgh.