All things considered, it’s still pretty early in the NHL season. We’re only two weeks into what is essentially a 25-week campaign, after all. It would be silly to jump to conclusions already, right?
Well maybe, but let’s do it anyway. To a certain extent, at least.
Quite a few clubs entered the year with lofty expectations, then got off to rocky starts. But most have shown signs of righting the ship. The Penguins began 0-3, but finally seem to have gotten Evgeni Malkin (goals in two straight games, after going 18 straight without any) back on track. Not coincidentally, they’ve won two in a row. The Kings were basically absent from their first three contests, getting outscored 12-2. But they’ve managed to wake up and grind out a couple victories since. And even the Ducks — who had somehow produced just one total goal in their first four outings — pieced together a win over the weekend.
That’s not to say those clubs are all suddenly locked in and ready to go on deep Stanley Cup runs, but at least they’ve been able to lend some credence to the notion that anyone panicking after the first week needed to calm down a little. The same can’t be said for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Seven games into the 2015-16 campaign, they have yet to register a win. In fact, they haven’t even taken a contest to overtime yet. They haven’t even been in a one-goal game.
Seven losses is a little different than two or three — especially considering the difficulty of landing a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers are already rolling, the Capitals look pretty good as well and the Islanders haven’t shown any signs of dropping off from last year’s solid effort either. At best, two more teams could make it from the group and, if Pittsburgh is figuring things out, that just leaves one more spot for the Blue Jackets, Flyers, Devils and Hurricanes to fight for. And that assumes no wild cards make it from the Atlantic — which is far from a safe assumption.
Through that lens, starting 0-7-0 seems a little more damaging. Which might be why the team dinner at the owner’s house on Sunday was cancelled. Or it might be why there are rumors swirling about head coach Todd Richards and his potentially tenuous job security at the moment.
Maybe Richards isn’t going anywhere if they can turn things around. But they need to do it now. And they also probably need to accept that questions about the coach are likely going to linger until they start resembling the club that many thought would make some noise this season. So they’re going to have to pull themselves out of this rut with that cloud hanging over them.
Is it possible expectations were just unreasonably high for this roster? Not likely in this case. It’s not hard to understand the line of thinking that led many to believe this would be a formidable club. They added Brandon Saad — one of the better young players in the game today — to an already gifted lineup. And that lineup was finally healthy, after leading the entire league in man-games lost a year ago. Among those most impacted by injury was the goalie, who is just two years removed from winning the Vezina Trophy.
Last season was tough, but the injuries made it somewhat understandable. And it all came on the heels of the organization’s first two playoff wins ever, back in 2013-14. So a bounce-back this time around seemed almost inevitable. When Columbus finally got some players back just in time to close out last year on a 15-1-1 tear, the stage seemed set.
So what exactly is going on here? The offense has been far from explosive so far (Saad’s been good though) and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said flat out that he has “zero confidence right now.” Not necessarily what you want to hear from your starting netminder.
There are many who feel the only way to trigger a turnaround is to make a big change and, unfortunately for Richards, they’re not going to fire all the players. But, ultimately, the real change needs to come on the ice — specifically in their own zone and in net.
As a team, the Jackets are allowing nearly five goals per game. That’s by far the worst in the league and, to put it in perspective, they ranked 13th in that department in 2013-14 — and 11th the year before that. Even last season, when the roster was decimated by injuries, they “only” allowed 3.02 per night.
This isn’t all Bobrovsky’s fault, by any means. But, simply by the nature of his position — and the success he has had in this league before — he’s the individual with the most power to begin turning it around.