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Discipline key to Jackets busting their slump

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets have dropped seven straight games, which is obviously the wrong kind of streak. Another habit they’d like to break is the number of penalties they’ve taken of late – a trend that’s been particularly troublesome in the last two games.

Back-to-back losses to the Carolina Hurricanes have the Jackets looking up at a tall task to get back in the race, and they don’t need to look far to find what’s plagued them of late. They took six minor penalties in a 4-2 loss on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena and gave the Hurricanes seven power plays in the rematch last night in Raleigh.

Yes, the Blue Jackets’ penalty kill was a perfect six-for-six in regulation time and it was a big reason why they earned a point. But the final penalty – debate whether it was a legitimate penalty or not all you want – cost them the second point they desperately needed.

“We were better, and that’s the bottom line,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said this morning. “But it still wasn’t good enough because we didn’t get a win. We have to find ways to finish games out, we can’t take penalties and we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot at different times in the game when it’s leading to chances against or pucks into our net.”

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If there was a better time to shape up in the discipline department, well…there may not be.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, winners of four straight entering tonight, boast the NHL’s second-best offense (averaging a whopping 3.62 goals per game) and their power play is fifth-best with a 24.4 success rate. Names like Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson and Ryan Callahan make Tampa’s power play one of the league’s best, and the Blue Jackets can ill afford to make as many visits to the penalty box as they have over the past week.

“We’re playing a talented team but there aren’t too many teams – if any – that can’t beat you on any given night,” Richards said. “This (Tampa) team is talented, deep…they can make you look bad quick. There are 28 other teams, not counting ourselves, that can do the same thing.”

With the Lightning playing the first game of a back-to-back tonight in Columbus, they’ll go with backup goaltender Evgeni Nabokov between the pipes. Before rushing to judgment, consider that Lightning coach Jon Cooper has looked at Nabokov’s career record against the Blue Jackets, a very stout 20-5-3 in 29 starts, most of those coming with the San Jose Sharks.

Regardless of opponent or the opponent’s lineup, Richards said, the Blue Jackets have to build on what was a small step forward on Friday night, and make sure that tonight’s game is another larger stride in the right direction.

“We’re trying to win, and when you’re in a situation like this, it’s a little bit harder,” Richards said. “These are the struggles that every team goes through, and you have to find a solution to the problem. We can’t sit back and feel sorry for ourselves and just expect that it’s going to happen. We have to go out and make a difference. Tonight, we have to be better.

“Our battles were better (last night), our skating was better. On Tuesday, we had little to none of it. When you’re thinking yourself through the game and doing it at a (high) compete level, you’re going to give yourself a chance. On Tuesday we didn’t but last night we did, but we didn’t finish the game.”

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