Columbus Blue Jackets: Who Is To Blame for Late-Season Skid?
Before the February 28th trade deadline, the Columbus Blue Jackets had solidified themselves as contenders in the Western Conference.
They were playing their best hockey all season, going 8-4 in the month of February and looking almost unstoppable.
Columbus received stellar play from players like Rick Nash, rookie Matt Calvert and goalie Steve Mason. The team's chemistry was something no fan wanted to see split up via a trade, but fans knew the Jackets needed one to two pieces to finish the puzzle.
However, that time has come and gone, and now the Jackets see themselves on the verge of elimination. Columbus has only won two games in the month of March, which included a seven-game losing streak that saw them plummet to the bottom of the Western Conference with only 10 games left in the season.
So who deserves the blame for the Jackets' downward spiral?
4: Rick Nash's Goalless Streak
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During the Blue Jackets' skid, Rick Nash was in a skid of his own. Until last Saturday, the 26-year-old captain had not tallied a goal since their 4-0 shutout of Nashville back on February 22nd.
Up until the Jackets finally snapped the losing streak against Carolina, Nash had only recorded four assists in seven games.
During the broadcast against the Hurricanes, Nash was continually compared to Carolina captain Eric Staal. When the game is on the line, all of their teammates look to these two to step up and lead them to victory, hence the "C" on the chest.
However, Nash cannot be expected to do it all, even though teammates may assume that. When Nash struggled, the young core of Blue Jackets who were re-signed in the offseason were expected to step up when needed.
But players like Jakub Voracek, Derick Brassard and Antoine Vermette continue to have so-so seasons, and veteran leader RJ Umberger struggled when he was given the opportunity on penalty shots and shootouts.
During the offseason, the Blue Jackets should look to acquire more help for Nash if Columbus wants playoff hockey next season.
Nash was finally able to break out of his slump on Saturday against the Minnesota Wild, where he buried two goals and tallied two assists as the Jackets won in overtime.
3: Steve Mason's Struggles with Consistency
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Before the Jackets' skid, Steve Mason was on fire. He got the bulk of the starts and did not make the coaching staff regret it. Mason won seven of eight games and recorded two shutouts against division rivals.
He made several game-changing saves throughout the month and returned to the form that won him the Calder Trophy the last time the Blue Jackets went to the playoffs.
However, after dominating the Phoenix Coyotes on February 25th, Mason's next start would come against the first-place Vancouver Canucks during their West Coast road trip.
The game was back and forth and Mason played well, taking the game into overtime tied at one. The game would go to a shootout, as the Jackets needed that all-important extra point.
During the shootout, Mason had a chance to end the game twice, but could not come through, allowing the Canucks to stay in it. As the Jackets were running out of skill players, Mason could not hold the wall up much longer and Raffi Torres put the game-winner past Mason to end a valiant effort.
After that loss, it was clear that Mason had lost his confidence. The next game in Edmonton, Mason gave up two quick goals, like he did the last time Columbus was in Edmonton, and was pulled.
Later in the skid, Mason gave up a huge lead and allowed the Blues to tie the game late, and would lose yet another game in the shootout.
The same old story would come about again against Boston last week.
Mason's recent play has the Blue Jackets wondering if he was worth the contract extension they gave him, and if it may be time to part ways with the youngster.
2: Defense, Defense, Defense
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Although much of Mason's struggles may be on him, he can not be handed all of the blame. The Columbus defense has been horrendous this season.
The lack of an offensive-minded defenseman and constantly turning the puck over in their own zone has been the reason for several of the Jackets' losses.
Columbus' power play may have been more relevant this season if the Jackets had acquired an offensive-minded defenseman. The power play is known for being too timid with the puck and consistently passing it to one another before being cleared out of the zone.
Several defensemen pass the puck from point to point instead of firing on net and trying to create a scoring opportunity off a rebound.
Grant Clitsome, who was brought up in the middle of the season during the Mike Commodore dispute, has done well on the power play, scoring two of his four goals on the man advantage, but he cannot do it all.
In the offseason, defense should be the Jackets' main priority, getting rid of expiring contracts and bringing in free agents that know how to fire the puck on net.
However, since it should be the number one priority, it probably means nothing is going to happen in the Jackets front office, which brings me to who deserves the most blame.
1: Scott Howson's Inability to Make That "Blockbuster" Deal
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As the trade deadline was quickly approaching, no one was on the phone more than GM Scott Howson. Everyone in the league knew that Howson was in the market for an offensive-minded defenseman and a skilled center to take some of the weight off of Rick Nash's shoulders.
Names such as Buffalo's Tim Connolly and Colorado's John Michael-Liles had been brought up as potential new Jackets.
On the day of the deadline, the only other team in pursuit of Liles, the Toronto Maple Leafs, dropped out of the chase, which would make one think that Howson had it in the bag.
The end of the deadline passed, Liles and Connolly were still in their respective cities and the Jackets were still in need of help.
Howson did trade an injured Rostislav Klesla to Phoenix for winger Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto, but that was not going to put the Jackets over the playoff bar.
I am not saying that either of these players are bad. I am a huge fan of Scottie Upshall and feel that he should be one of the first free agents re-signed at years end.
But Howson had said over and over before the deadline that he was looking to make a "blockbuster" deal, and he was not able to.
He said that he did not want to break up the chemistry that had been built over the Jackets' hot streak, and I can understand that. But there was plenty out there that could have helped that chemistry, and Howson did not want to give up what was being asked for in return.
He had stated that he was willing to part with the Blue Jackets' first round pick in the upcoming draft, but was he really?
All I know is, at season's end, Howson will have an opportunity to acquire some of the players he should had acquired during the season for less of the cost, but my bet is he will just re-sign our free agents and we will be having this same discussion next season.