CBJ lost their third in a row tonight, falling 3-2 to the Ottawa Senators at home after a heartbreaker of a game-cincher by Sens captain Jason Spezza with just five minutes to go. It marks a sharp downturn from their franchise record breaking eight game winning streak. In the span of just a few games, they’ve fallen from third place in the Metropolitan Division to fifth, the Washington Capitols nipping at their heels.
Basically, CBJ is Robb Stark and a three-game slump sounds a lot like the opening strains of “Rains of Castamere.”
Still: nobody panic. I’m not saying any of this is good news, but it’s not nearly as dire as your aching heart wants you to believe.
The thing about the Metropolitan division is that it’s anyone’s game. The gap between second place and fifth is just three points. That requires a few big wins, yes, but it’s not impossible. It’s not even necessarily improbable.
Take tonight’s game. It’s not that there weren’t opportunities, not that they didn’t have — and take — great chances to score. We saw a lot of traffic in front of Ottawa’s net; no, not as much as we’d like (is it ever as much as we’d like?), but it was there. The Jackets got themselves, physically, where they needed to be. It’s just that, through glove saves or bad bounces, the scoreboard didn’t reflect that effort. Obviously there were flashes of sloppiness, of waiting just a second too long to take a shot. There was the bewildering moment where RJ Umberger somehow managed not to score on a wide-open net. CBJ mishandled nine giveaways to Ottawa’s just two.
But there were good things, too. CBJ pulled themselves up from a 2-0 deficit and held on until an ill-timed powerplay. They won 43 of 68 faceoffs, outshot the Sens 36-28, and Jack Johnson played for 27.5 minutes (twenty-seven! and a half!). The vaguely alarming 9-2 giveaway ratio is more or less cancelled out by the 8-2 takeaway ratio, this time in CBJ’s favor (not that these are particularly reliable stats, anyway, except to tell us that maybe CBJ was trying to get a little too fancy with the puck).
So, okay. There were good things and bad things in this game. That’s the analytic equivalent of the color beige.
The important thing to look at over the course of the last few games isn’t necessarily what the scoreboard says. The thing to look at is the mental game–at how the Blue Jackets react when things don’t go their way. And what we’ve seen, from the beginning of the streak all the way through tonight’s loss, is a vastly improved mental toughness. The Blue Jackets have always performed best when they stick to their strengths: a structured game which sticks to its system and doesn’t depend on star power. That has tended to fall apart in sticky situations because panic sets in, and suddenly everyone is trying to be Sidney Crosby.
But there’s a reason why the Penguins are constantly playing First Line Winger Roulette, and it’s because guys like Crosby don’t really fit within a system. If you don’t have a Crosby, you have to play like you don’t need one. CBJ did that, during the streak. They played their game, and didn’t let panic run down the clock.
They’ve done that, more or less, in the last three games, too. The losses haven’t been due to a breakdown of the system or anyone getting psyched out. They’ve been due to sloppiness, to bad luck, to missed opportunities.
That sounds like a bad problem to have. Mostly it’s just beautifully, gloriously direct one. Mostly, it’s just a problem that’s totally fixable.
So chin up, Robb Stark. It’s not your wedding day yet.