Blue Jackets Notebook: Call-ups, An Extended Homestand, and Offensive Frustration Loom in Columbus

 

By Joe Depto (@JoeDepto)

Getty Images

Getty Images

Once again this season, close wasn’t simply good enough for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

On Tuesday, the Jackets lost 3-2 in a competitive game against the Minnesota Wild, squandering away a solid performance from CBJ netminder Steve Mason.

In addition to coming up short on the offensive side of the ice, Columbus was hit hard with a series of injuries in their own end as well. Defensemen Nikita Nikitin (head) and Adrian Aucoin (lower-body) both left the game early, forcing the Blue Jackets to finish the game with just four defenseman.

In the wake of a number of injuries, the Blue Jackets turn to call-ups from Springfield

As a result of both Tyutin and Aucoin being injured, David Savard, who has been a healthy scratch in each of the Jackets’ games this season, will finally see ice time on Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues but it might not help their NHL odds.

Savard won’t be the only new face on the Jackets’ blue line on thursday, however, as Tim Erixon was recalled from Springfield on Wednesday. Erixon has been a boon for the Springfield blue line this season, posting an excellent 29 points (5G, 24A) and a +9  rating in 40 games with the Springfield Falcons this season. Erixon was an invite to training camp in Columbus this January and looked strong in the teams’ brief week-long camp. Savard and Erixon are likely to be paired together against the Blues.

The line of injuries in Columbus haven’t only affected the team’s defense. With Cam Atkinson still expected to miss 2-3 more weeks of game time, and Matt Calvert on the team’s injured reserve, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault was also plucked from Springfield to give the team much-needed forward depth.

Audy-Marchessault, who was signed by Columbus last summer, has posted 45 points in 42 games this season for Springfield – the best in the AHL, currently.

Offensive woes continue to be the Achilles’ heel of the Blue Jackets

When Columbus dealt Rick Nash, everyone knew the Blue Jackets offensive production would take a hit. But after losing five out of their last six, Columbus appears to be as offensively woeful as any team in the NHL thus far.

To put things in perspective, Derick Brassard, RJ Umberger, Matt Calvert, and Ryan Johansen have all yet to score so far this season.

In fact, defenseman Fedor Tyutin and winger Derek Dorsett, neither of which are known around the league for their offensive prowess, are currently leading the team (currently tied for the fifth-worst offense in the western conference) in point production.

With the man-advantage, the numbers become even more abysmal. Last night, the Columbus Blue Jackets scored their first powerplay goal of the season. Earlier in the week, the Jackets’ wasted golden opportunities against the Dallas Stars PK unit – one of which included a full two minutes of a 5 on 3 powerplay with very few quality scoring chances produced.

With plenty of new faces, a short training camp, and no preseason to develop timing, the Blue Jackets are obviously facing some of the same problems other teams are facing around the league. Los Angeles, for example, also has just a tallied just a single powerplay goal.

The CBJ simply haven’t consistently generated a productive “flow” on offense. It has occurred in brief spurts, with the results being very fruitful. Columbus must also do a better job of decision-making when passing. Far too often this season, neutral zone turnovers have plagued the Blue Jackets due to forcing plays out of frustration.

With the Blues poised to enter Columbus eager and ready to pick up a quick road win, the Blue Jackets must find a way to solve Ken Hitchcock’s strong defensive system and goaltending. No matter the exact reason for the offensive struggles of the Blue Jackets so far this season, the production on the scoresheet must increase immediately if the Jackets are to be in the playoff discussion in 2013.

Success in the impending six-game homestand is paramount for Columbus

Some could say that suggesting that the Jackets are in a must-win situation this early in the season is being overdramatic. I would disagree.

Do the Jackets need to pick up (at the very least) six out of a possible twelve point on the team’s upcoming home stand?

If saying so sounds absurd, simply take a closer look at the western conference standings :

Chicago is off to a red-hot start and isn’t likely to slow down too much. St. Louis has all of the makings of a Stanley Cup contending club. San Jose won’t sustain their hot start for an entire season, but they will consistently be the favorites in a large portion (if not the majority) of the divisional games they will play in a division-heavy shortened season.

Expecting Vancouver to continue their struggles? Not I. Expecting Edmonton’s potent offense to slow down? Not a chance. Thinking the defending champion Los Angeles Kings will fade away for a full season the way they have to date? I doubt it.

Despite their inadequacies and cynical attention from around the league, the current Columbus team is not a bad one – far from it. In fact, the team’s strong defensive potential and above-average goaltending (thus far) is why I bring up the most adament attention of the upcoming six games in a row at Nationwide arena.

The Blue Jackets have been a noticeably better team at home this season. A gusty win over the Dallas Stars on Monday night drives that point home even more than the team’s frustratingly close losses to Detroit and Chicago. Turning those close losses into close wins in the coming weeks keeps Columbus in the thick of the parity-laden western conference.

It’s possible that this is a moot point and the progress Columbus could potentially make this season lies somewhere within the 10-13 seed range.

Maybe so, but I’ll hold that discussion off until March.

You can follow Joe Depto on Twitter at @JoeDepto

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