For about a month, it was the about only question asked of the Columbus Blue Jackets, in part because it was the one thing the team had to answer.
Each time the media filtered into the team locker room after another disappointing setback, it was the same -- why can't this team, which made a big move by acquiring forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel at the trade deadline, score goals?
It was their own version of March Madness, but it was driving the Blue Jackets insane.
Three shutouts in the first six games of the month were frustrating, and by the time the Jackets scored just four goals while losing three games in a row to begin a road swing late in the month, the season was hanging by a thread.
"Finishing and creating offense is a problem for us right now, so we have to figure out what is going wrong here," Matt Duchene said after a 4-1 loss at Edmonton. "I mean, I wish I had answers for you guys. I really don't know what to say."
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It was a combination of factors. There was simply bad luck, such as the night the team rang the post four times while losing 4-2 at Calgary. There were some hot goalies, like Thomas Greiss when the team was shut out on Long Island. And there were just some uneven performances, like the loss at Edmonton in which the team structure broke down and guys tried to go 1-on-5, with predictable results.
But through it all, the Blue Jackets said something would turn at some point, and they were right. Whether the turning point was Josh Anderson scoring first in a March 24 game at Vancouver, when Pierre-Luc Dubois ended a long scoring drought by making it 2-0, or any other play in that game in the Pacific Northwest, the 5-0 win vs. the Canucks proved to be the start of something good
By the end of that game, it was like a fog had lifted off the Blue Jackets, and goals followed in droves. The Blue Jackets scored 24 in a five-game winning streak, made it 34 while winning seven of the last eight, and then scored 19 in a four-game series sweep of Tampa Bay to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That's 53 goals over the last 12 games, an average of 4.4 per game after an 11-game stretch in which the Jackets scored just 22 goals, 2.0 per game.
So, uh, what happened? Well, let's go back to the struggles, for without them, Duchene believes, there wouldn't be the current success.
"It didn't surprise me we went through that, honestly," Duchene said. "It was the same thing that happened last year in Ottawa (when he was traded to the Senators). When you make big changes, it puts a ripple through the team. It's going to be a good thing at some point, but it took some time for everyone to adjust. I went through literally the same thing last year.
"It's so frustrating because you feel like an individual and as a team you're playing good hockey. I know we felt like we were playing well. We just couldn't finish."
"I think in the playoffs we just got rid of that," Duchene said. "It went away. We just went out there and played. … We were maybe a little too ramped up at the deadline, and that hurt our hands and hurt our finishing and that confidence and relaxation you have to have around the net. It was nice to see it really flow when we needed it down the stretch and in the playoffs."
Goals have come from anywhere and everywhere since then. Twelve different goal scorers tallied in the series win over the Lightning, and 15 of the 19 Blue Jackets skaters in the series had at least a point. That's after 14 different Jackets scored in the last eight games of the season, a list that didn't even include Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, who each tallied vs. the Lightning.
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"We have every guy going," Anderson said. "Everyone has bought into the system. We have a lot of different goal scorers, and that's what you have to do in order to win hockey games. It can't just be the same guys every single night. You see the success that we've had, so hopefully it continues."
The way Duchene sees it, too, goal scoring is streaky. Whether it's going good or going bad, it tends to build on itself.
"If offense wasn't streaky, guys would score 80 goals," he said. "You look at the absolute best goal scorers in the league and they'll go 10 games with nothing during the season. It happens all the time. You don't change anything. Goals are contagious. That feeling of scoring is contagious, and that's something once you get on a good wave, you want to keep riding it."
Perhaps no one has been emblematic of being on a good wave than Oliver Bjorkstrand, who scored nine goals in the last 10 games of the regular season then added two tallies in the series win vs. Tampa Bay.
That's after the talented winger had just three goals as the neared the halfway point on the season. Sure, Bjorkstrand is playing a better game away from the puck, one reason why he's been so successful of late. But sometimes, these things just come in bunches.
"That's team sports, or sports in general," Bjorkstrand said. "You get in the times where everything is working, and sometimes you have to fight through it. We've definitely been through that at times this year. Everything you go through, you learn from it and it makes you better."