Needless to say, the first 20 games of this season have not panned out how the Blue Jackets drew it up.
What is also true is those games are in the past, and the club’s re-learning phase a few weeks back appears to be paying dividends. Head coach Scott Arniel and his staff saw aspects of the team’s game slipping away, and they have logged a lot of practice hours to make sure those habits don’t resurrect themselves.
The Blue Jackets went on a five-game point streak (3-0-2) from Nov. 17 to Nov. 25, allowing just seven goals in that stretch. Opposition scoring chances seemed few and far between and the team’s No. 1 line started clicking at an electric pace. Those factors have amounted to a 4-3-2 record in their last nine games, an encouraging turnaround after a 2-12-1 start.
Arniel said he is pleased with the way his players have re-focused and committed to their system, and this week’s Canadian road trip is an opportunity to build another layer.
“Our play without the puck has been so much better in this stretch,” Arniel said. “When things aren’t going well, you’re making changes to find chemistry. It is a lot easier in a game like (Buffalo) where you just open the door and let them go.
“You can see they’ve got some chemistry amongst themselves and they seem to be on the same page. They’re putting pucks where they know guys are going to be and things are starting to mesh together.”
Last night at Rogers Arena, the road trip did not start with a victory but there were periods of the game in which the Blue Jackets had a chance to turn the tables. Arniel pointed to a slow first-period start (Daniel Sedin scored just 3:19 in) and a goal from Ryan Kesler as moments in the game the Blue Jackets ventured away from their game plan.
Kesler’s goal was particularly disappointing because Sammy Pahlsson had just scored a shorthanded goal to cut the Canucks lead in half.
“We got off to a slow start in the game and gave up a couple of coverage goals,” Arniel said. “At the start of the second, I thought we got ourselves going and were doing the right things. That third one, that’s a hockey play where you just get the puck down the ice, kill the rest of that penalty and go from there.”
The next stop on the four-game trip is Calgary, where the Flames are coming off a 1-0 win against Nashville on Tuesday night. Miikka Kiprusoff made 26 saves and rookie Derek Smith scored the only goal for Calgary, which is 10-12-1 on the season and 3-3-0 in its last six games and feast-or-famine in those contests.
For the Blue Jackets to get wins on this important road trip, they must approach it as they have their previous 10 games: one at a time.
“I think we have to take it game-by-game,” Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash said. “We’ve had a good stretch here, but we can’t let this be a setback. We’ve been playing well and we’re staying in games. Coming back with a couple of wins off this road trip is going to be huge.”