Friday night presents the best opportunity for the Columbus Blue Jackets to jostle their season back on the rails as they take on the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs.
The better-on-paper, fantastic-in-preseason Blue Jackets have not only underwhelmed after four games, they’ve been repeatedly blown out.
Four consecutive losses out of the gate have plummeted Columbus to dead last in the NHL with a league-worst minus-11 goal differential and 20 goals against — an average of five per game that sparked $29.7-million goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to confess, “I have zero confidence right now.”
The penalty kill has been anemic (64.3 per cent), the top line has been juggled, the general manager has spoken out, and the cannon has been swiveled due south.
“Maybe we thought we’re something we’re not,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen told Hockey Central at Noon Friday. “When you don’t play well and you don’t play to your identity and you don’t work, you’re off the rails. It’s a simple as that.”
Kekalainen believes his club is an intense, in-your-face group. They just haven’t shown it much since the regular season began.
There has been much internal dialogue among management and with the players as to how to remedy the ugly start.
“The great thing about pro sports is you get another opportunity fairly quickly, and we’ve got that tonight,” Kekalainen said, looking at hosting the Leafs. “My goal is not to get down there [and talk to the players directly] at all during the year, and sometimes you have to. If I have to do that, I’ll do that.”
Kekalainen refused to throw Bobrovsky under the bus, despite the goalie’s .830 save percentage.
“I don’t think we’ve defended as a unit. Twenty goals against in four games is unacceptable,” he said. “That’s a terrible number. That doesn’t happen because of one person. It happens because you don’t defend well as a unit.
“Confidence is everything in pro sports, and [Bobrovsky] has had some time to work on that for the next game. Hopefully our confidence is different after tonight’s game.”
Coach Todd Richards chose to split captain Nick Foligno (three points) and centre Ryan Johansen (five points) after just a few games, but the pair will reunite versus the Leafs. Vegas odds-makers pegged Richards as the third-most-likely NHL head coach to be fired first this season, but Kekalainen praised Richards’ effort.
“He’s working as hard as anybody down there to try to figure out how we get back on the rails,” said Kekalainen.
The GM still has faith in his team’s ability to turn its season around, and he’s done the math.
“We have 158 points there to be taken towards the end of the season,” he said. “There’s enough points to be taken to be in the right spot come April.”