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Good start, Murray among Blue Jackets questions

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- Knowing what's wrong and fixing the problems are two different stories for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

They have gotten off to miserable starts the past four seasons, a significant factor in them qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs once (2014) during the span.

How the Blue Jackets will fare early this season is one of three major questions they face:

Will the season be spent chasing the playoffs? The Blue Jackets opened last season with four wins in six games, then injuries ravaged their roster; Columbus lost an NHL-high 508 man-games.

By the end of November, they were 6-15-2 and didn't make up much ground until it was too late. A 12-0-1 finish left them 42-35-5 and nine points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

"We need to find better ways to maintain and not have major dips," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "We might have injuries this year, and you've got to find ways to stay afloat instead of sinking."

In the previous three seasons, the Blue Jackets started 2-12-1, 5-12-4 and 5-10-0.

"It's pretty obvious you have to have a good start to have a successful season," defenseman Fedor Tyutin said. "That's going to be our team goal. We don't want to use injuries as an excuse. We still have good players here.

"That's something we're searching answers for, why we're having bad starts to the season."

Will defenseman Ryan Murray play a full season? The Blue Jackets view Murray, 21, as a potential all-star and backbone for the defense when he's healthy.

But he missed the last two-thirds of his final junior season for Everett of the Western Hockey League with a shoulder injury. Then he had knee surgery near the end of his rookie season with the Blue Jackets in 2013-14, when he played 66 games.

The knee continued to bother him last season. Combined with an ankle sprain and a lower-body injury, he played 12 games.

"I told him to keep working," Tyutin said. "Life is hard sometimes, things don't go your way and you have to stay positive. He's a great player. He's proven that. Everybody sees it. He's going to be a good player in this league for a good number of years."

Make no mistake, the Blue Jackets need a healthy Murray because the defense is suspect.

How does having a captain change the dressing room? The Blue Jackets had gone without a captain since Rick Nash in 2011-12 before Nick Foligno was given the honor in June.

The Blue Jackets have an eclectic mix of veteran players such as Brandon Dubinsky, David Clarkson, Jack Johnson and Scott Hartnell who speak their minds, and youngsters such as Boone Jenner and Ryan Johansen who are being groomed to be the next leaders.

Then there are Stanley Cup winners Gregory Campbell, 31, and Brandon Saad, 22, brought in for their playoff experience.

"With an 'A' or a 'C' not on my jersey, I still think the guys look up to me," Hartnell said. "You can say that about most of the guys in the room, especially the young guys. You've got Boone and [Johansen]. Those guys are taking huge strides on the leadership side of it."

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