The Jackets are searching for their identity on the ice at the moment, and it is proving elusive. They can appear to be in command of the game one minute, and suddenly lose all contact with the fundamentals and appear totally lost.
Such was the case tonight in a 5 - 3 loss to the Canadiens in Montreal. For much of the first two periods, the Jackets absolutely dominated play. They carried the play to Montreal in the offensive zone, played solidly in the defensive zone, and were overall more responsible with the puck.
That the Jackets held only a 3 - 2 lead after two periods could be attributed to goaltending at both ends. Carey Price was remarkable for the first two, making some key saves as the Jackets asserted
themselves and swarmed around Price's crease. In contrast, Mathieu Garon was uncharacteristically soft in his own net, surrendering a very soft goal for the first one of the game. This could have, and should have been a 4 - 1 or 5 - 1 contest heading into the third.
As we have said time and time again, you need to put games away when you have the chance. This is especially true where, as tonight, you are on the road in the second half of a back to back. To provide hope is to give life, and as the Jackets' legs wearied in the second half of the second period, the Habs began to assert themselves. A late penalty by Fedor Tyutin at the end of the second created a kill the Jackets did not need, given their fatigue level. Though the penalty was killed, and despite the timeout strategically called to provide some respite, the now-familiar littany of turnovers, missed passes and missed defensive assignments began.
In the brief span of slightly more than two minutes, Montreal cashed in on two opportunities borne of fatigue, turnovers and sub-optimal goaltending. The officials were of little help, as Montreal was able to get away with some pretty substantial muggings of Nash and Vermette down low. Too many passes sailed under the sticks of unprepared Jackets skaters, and pucks found Price's glove, rather than the back of the net.
To be sure, there were some positives to come out of this one. Vermette, Stralman and Nash were solid all night. Chimera and Voracek were strong on the puck, and Brassard was far more visible than he has been in the past. The Jackets converted on two of four power play opportunities, and the last one was particularly notable for terrific puck movement and maintenance of possession.
The defense was better for most of the game, but again lapsed when they needed it most. The defensemen just do not look comfortable with each other. Pahlsson was invisible, Klesla and Hejda inconsistent (-2 & -3 respectively). Again, it appeared that our defenseman were bewildered, hesitant and overly careful. In the early stages of the game, the CBJ did a good job of knocking the Habs off of the puck. That went by the wayside as the game progressed, and the Habs used the opportunity to gain momentum.
The club needs to go back to basics-- get Commodore and Hejda back together, move decisively and confidently, and re-establish dominance in all three zones. The Jackest remain 12-8-3, and a win over Ottawa on Thursday will make them 2 - 2 -1 for the longest road trip of the year. No need to break the glass and pull the alarm, but less thinking and more acting needs to be happening on the ice. Sticks on the ice, communication and responsibility are the keys.
The Blue Jackets are heading into an important part of the season coming off of this road trip, and they need to find the identity they have grasped briefly, but have been unable to grip firmly thus far this season.