COLUMBUS, Ohio — One night, it’s an awful start and a respectable response. Three nights later, it’s a great start and a slow fade the rest of the way. Columbus Blue Jackets coach Pascal Vincent predicted a choppy start for his club, and that’s how the first month of the season has unfurled.
The Blue Jackets lost 5-2 to the high-powered Dallas Stars on Thursday in Nationwide Arena, a game that had its unique aspects — the Jackets led 2-0 less than nine minutes into the game — and yet was like so many others the Blue Jackets have played already this season.
“Great start,” Vincent said. “We’re moving. We’re fast. We’re playing with pace. The structure is right. The individual mistakes, ones that we don’t need to make — they made us pay every time, and there was a shift of momentum during the game.
“It’s created by us. Small mistakes that become big momentum changes in the game. We gotta get away from that. There’s a patience we need to show. Some composure we need to show. That’s a good hockey team (Dallas), but there are three goals we can prevent easily.”
The Blue Jackets’ roster is loaded with young, promising players, but they are, at this point, disparate parts that don’t quite fit together mostly because the players are still defining themselves as NHLers.
In 13 games this season, Vincent has used 24 different lines at the start of games. He’s started to find a bit of traction with some lines and pairs, but the shuffling is likely to continue until the Blue Jackets find some consistency in performance.
But here’s the biggest issue: In almost every game the Jackets will play this season, they’ll be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to chemistry and experience. The Panthers on Monday (a 5-4 overtime loss) and the Stars on Thursday were exaggerated examples of this.
“It’s a challenge,” Vincent said. “But when you look at those mistakes, they’re not necessarily made by our young guys.”
It was Ivan Provorov who served up the turnover that led to overtime on Monday vs. Florida. On Thursday, defenseman Jake Bean lost a puck battle high in the zone that sent Dallas’ Matt Duchene off on a breakaway late in the second to give the Stars a 3-2 lead.
Bloop! We’ll take that lead, thanks! pic.twitter.com/LutZJJVR3m
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) November 10, 2023
The pressure on the young players is magnified, of course, with veteran players either out of the lineup with injury (Patrik Laine) or missing in action with their production (Johnny Gaudreau). Gaudreau has one goal (an empty-netter) and six points in 13 games this season, including an assist on Thursday.
Vincent, in his first year as an NHL coach, is committed to the long game in teaching the Blue Jackets how to play and how to win. But the process won’t be painless or quick, especially when facing a club like Dallas, with Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Duchene … we could go on.
“You see the difference against the big teams like Dallas and Florida in the one-on-one battles,” Vincent said. “They’re stronger. Five or six years of working out and playing in the league makes a difference.
“Sustaining offensive zone time against a big team … we’re not there yet. Killing plays in the defensive zone so we don’t spend so much time in our zone … we still need to grow. That’s going to come, but it takes time. That’s where I see the big difference between a younger team and an older team.”
For instance, the Blue Jackets’ second line was rookie Adam Fantilli at center with Dmitry Voronkov and Kirill Marchenko on the wings. Total NHL experience: 90 games, including Thursday’s game. Fantilli and Voronkov were both under 12 minutes of ice time.
The Blue Jackets’ third line was centered by Cole Sillinger, with Alexandre Texier and Yegor Chinakhov on the wings. Sillinger, in his third NHL season with 156 games on his resume, is the most experienced of the three. That line was on the ice for three of the Stars’ goals.
Still, the Jackets took a 1-0 lead only 1:08 into the game. Jack Roslovic carried the puck into the zone with speed, sending a sharp pass across to Gaudreau in the left wing. Gaudreau’s pass to Boone Jenner in the slot went off Jenner’s stick and caromed into the net.
Adam Fantilli and Kirill Marchenko connect for @BlueJacketsNHL‘s second goal of the night! ✌️
— NHL (@NHL) November 10, 2023
At 8:43 of the first, the Jackets scored again off the rush, but this one was more artistic. Fantilli carried the puck into the zone through the left circle and sent a perfect pass across to Marchenko, who went top-shelf past Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger to make it 2-0.
And that was the end of the highlights for Columbus. On the next shift, Dallas scored to make it 2-1, a deflating goal that the Blue Jackets never quite got over. By the midpoint of the second, it was 2-2. Duchene’s breakaway made it 3-2.
When Seguin scored early in the third, the die was cast.
“We wanted to come out hot and we did,” Fantilli said. “We capitalized on our chances early, playing with pace, playing the way we wanted to play.
“Somewhere along the lines, we got away from it quick and they buried a couple. You never want to see that, but I know we’re going to come out again strong on Saturday.”
(Photo of Stars’ Wyatt Johnston and Blue Jackets’ Mathieu Olivier: Jason Mowry / Getty Images)