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The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the New Jersey Devils 2-0 tonight. The good thing about this loss is it wasn’t a complete mess. The game was emotionally well rounded. There were incredible saves, good players and bad plays. There were even ugly moments I wish I could erase from my mind all together.

Since it’s preseason, I’ll do us all a favor and keep it semi brief. For those of you who are expecting the Ryan Real special, I apologize in advance. You will likely never see a 1,200 word recap come out of my finger tips.

Join me as I break tonight’s loss down by the good, the bad, and the ugly.

First Period
Good
Jakob Lilja and Markus Nutivaara had quite the strong first period. Nutivaara’s trigger finger was hot during the first eight minutes of the game. Every time the puck landed on his stick, Nutivaara fired off a shot. He also did a great job of getting behind the net to clear pucks out of the defensive zone.

Other than committing a high stick penalty, Lilja had a fantastic first period. Especially when battling along the boards.

Bad
Seth Jones did not have the best first period. He had a few bad passes and even biffed it around the edges when going to gather the puck.

The Devils scored their first goal of the night around eight and a half minutes into the game. This goal wasn’t completely Jones’ fault. However, Jones could have cut back while Taylor Hall was dragging his stick from the top of the faceoff circle to the dot where the shot was launched from sailing directly past Jones.

On the flip side, Jones did help Joonas Korpisalo out in a big way when there was around 9:29 left in the first period. So, I guess we could say Jones played badish.

Ugly
The Jackets power play might be the ugliest thing I have seen in a long time. For around four and a half minutes, the Jackets had the man advantage. Due to Devils inability to play a disciplined game, the Jackets ended up with a 5-on-3 twice. Yet, they couldn’t make anything happen.

Astounding

The first period gets an extra special category courtesy of Korpisalo and his cat like reflexes.

Roll that beautiful goalie footage.

JOONAS KORPISALO (with some help from Seth Jones) MAKES THE SAVE OF THE #CBJ PRESEASON pic.twitter.com/2im4WtKgkJ

Second Period
Good
Yet again, Korpisalo was the saving grace of the period. Around the halfway mark of the period, Korpisalo made an epic lateral save denying Blake Coleman’s point blank shot.

With 4:35 left in the period, Korpisalo pulled out another stellar save. This time it was on Hall after Riley Nash turned over the puck below the offensive zone blue line. Hall sped down the ice with no one around thinking he’d be able to extend the Devils’ lead to 2-0. Korpisalo had other plans as he extended his left pad to the post to stuff Hall’s shot attempt.

Also, Vladislov Gavrikov had a nice second period. It seems as though he really enjoys leaning on the opposition along the boards until they cough up the puck. Although, Gavrikov needs to keep an eye on his stick. He can’t be waving it about all willy nilly when there is a race for the puck. Had he controlled the stick a highsticking penalty never would have happened.

Bad
With 5:48 left in the second period, Alexandre Texier picked up a rebound and shot it into the net. Unfortunately, thanks to Pierre-Luc Dubois, the goal was waved off for incidental contact. Granted, Damon Severson backed into Dubois as he was cutting through the crease causing contact with Schneider to happen.

I’m not going to let Dubois off easy on this one though. He’s been playing hockey long enough to know when you cut through the crease you also need to keep an eye on anyone else who is in or around the crease.

Ugly
If Sonny Milano wants to play with the big boys, he needs to toughen up. Getting jostled along the boards is not a good look. Getting knocked off your skates behind the net while trying to grab a puck is also not a good look. Milano seemed to be easily rattled as well tonight.

The Milano from the AHL playoffs needs to make a come back soon or else he is going to drown at the NHL level.

Third Period
Good
In the last two minutes of the game, the Devils could not score on the Jackets’ empty net to save their life.

Even better, the Jackets had a few good looks on net in the final 30 seconds of the game. Corey Schneider was just too good tonight and stopped every single shot.

Bad
Travis Zajac extended the Devils’ lead to 2-0 with a power play goal 8:20 into the third period. Wayne Simmonds posted up shop on the left side of the net while Kyle Palmeri went around back to retrieve the puck. Palmeri saw Korpisalo move to cut off Simmonds’ scoring line and opted to send the puck Zajac’s way. From the slot, he was able to fire the puck into the net with ease.

Ugly
There wasn’t really anything I would consider ugly in the third period. Which is a little victory in my mind.

Things of Note
At the start of the third period, the Jackets switched swapped Alexandre Texier for Nick Foligno on the first line. Could this be the new first line? We will find out with in the week.

#CBJ swapped left wings to start the third period. Foligno playing with Dubois and Atkinson; Texier out there with Jenner and Anderson.

Let’s just cut right to the chase. I am worried about the Columbus Blue Jackets’ chances in 2019-20.

If you have followed me for any length of time, you know that I am one of the most optimistic people when it comes to the Blue Jackets. I’ve long been a believer in what plan the team has executed. I’ve always said it was a matter of time before they started enjoying postseason success. Ever since GM Jarmo Kekalainen took the job in 2012, there was a sense that better days were coming.

And while it’s still true that the best days of the franchise are coming at some point, I don’ think that’s this season.

While some believe that the Blue Jackets will make noise this season, I am not one of those folks. Now, this is not to say they can’t do it. They have talent. They have motivation. If they stay healthy and get great performances from key players, they absolutely can make the playoffs this season. It is not out of the question.

But here’s what I am saying. There are enough worry signs for this season that I cannot ignore.

I recently went on the Vegas Hockey Podcast and was asked flat out how I thought the Blue Jackets would do this season. After explaining my stance, I ultimately said the Blue Jackets would finish with 87 points. That falls short of the playoffs. I have them finishing sixth in the Metropolitan Division.

I have the Rangers last at 81 points. If this comes anything close to true, that’s not far from the basement of the division. When it comes to reasons to worry about the Blue Jackets’ chances in 2019-20, that’s where the conversation starts, with the division they’re in.

Take one look at the Metro and you’ll see the challenges the Blue Jackets will face this season.

Washington Capitals: Class of division for several years. Core remains in tact and are ready for another run.
Carolina Hurricanes: Made the Eastern Conference Final last season and are on the verge of becoming a perennial power.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Although window is starting to close, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin still reside there. The Blue Jackets haven’t been able to consistently beat this team in the regular season.
New York Rangers: Landed both John Davidson and Artemi Panarin from the Blue Jackets. Landed Kaapo Kakko also. How much do they want to beat the Blue Jackets you think?
New York Islanders: Still have Barry Trotz running the bench and that’s never an easy things to score goals against them.
Philadelphia Flyers: Hired Alain Vigneault to coach them. Made some changes to their roster especially on defense with Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen on board. Carter Hart is about to take off. Bottom line they got better.
New Jersey Devils: PK Subban. Jack Hughes. Taylor Hall. Nico Hischier. They are vastly improved.
No team in hockey took more of an offseason hit than the Columbus Blue Jackets. Now couple those losses with this division and the way most teams got better and you have the recipe for a major drop off.

And, keep in mind that the Blue Jackets finished fifth in the Metro even with Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and crew on board. What argument could anyone present that would see them jump into the top-three? Again it’s not impossible. But it’s a daunting task.

There is an argument that can be made that sees the Blue Jackets finishing in the Metro basement. While I don’t think that happens given the talent they have, it’s not out of the question either. This leads directly to reason two for worry.

Anton Stralman,Sergei Bobrovsky,Brett Connolly,Noel Acciari
Sergei Bobrovsky took his talents to South Florida. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Young Goalies
Now, Joonas Korpisalo has been good this preseason no question. Despite a hard luck 2-0 loss to New Jersey Friday night, he played well. It’s clear that he will be the starter come next Friday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s earned it and is ready to prove himself.

But there in lies the issue. This is still brand new territory for Korpisalo. Although he’s played some extended stretches in his career, he’s never been a full-time starter until now. His backup Elvis Merzlikins comes with some hype. But he’s still getting used to the game and learning on the fly.

This duo will start the season as one of the most inexperienced groups in the entire NHL. If things don’t start the way they want to, how will they handle things?

Korpisalo and Merzlikins potentially hold the keys to how the season will go. If Korpisalo plays the regular season like he’s played the preseason, things start to look brighter. And when Merzlikins gets the call, can he play effective enough to allow his team to stay in games? So many questions and what ifs here.

The Blue Jackets have already said they’re going to change their style to adapt to the goalies they have. From the looks of things, there will be more of a dependence on defense. They have the talent to make it work. But if you put more eggs in the defensive basket, you leave yourself short on the other thing, which is reason number three for worry.

Columbus Blue Jackets Joonas Korpisalo
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo holds the keys to the season based on his performance. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)
Offensive Production
The Blue Jackets no longer have that difference maker in Panarin. Matt Duchene took his talents elsewhere. While talent remains, there’s still a huge hole that needs filled. Can someone or a group internally fill it?

So a top-20 overall player is gone. A 30-goal number one center is gone. Each had the ability to attract so much defensive attention that it left teammates with more room to operate. No one, I mean no one, had a better individual season points wise in Blue Jackets’ history than Panarin.

The team will be depending on some rookies to try to bridge this gap. Alex Texier is a fine player. Emil Bemstrom is interesting. And while players like Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand have their best days ahead of them, the team is in a position where they have to depend on so many things going right to try to make up for the big losses.

That is a lot to ask for this group. Again it’s not impossible, but it’s very difficult.

Teams will now focus on Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson from a game-plan standpoint. Texier is slated to start with them but we’ll see if that sticks. Even John Tortorella doesn’t know how the lines will start out.

I am worried about this offense, especially when you consider a change in style of play. You have to get the best of both worlds to be successful. While the defense and goaltending could work out fine, will it cost the Blue Jackets more goals? I think it does.

They can’t play run and gun. Their success is going to come down to defense and keeping the puck out of their net. I foresee a lot of 3-2, 2-1 type of games. If the Blue Jackets hope to enjoy success this season, they must get contributions from everyone.

The worry here is that on the nights Atkinson and Dubois get shut down, there won’t be other contributions. This is why Anderson, Bjorkstrand, Gus Nyqvist, Alexander Wennberg have to make an impact. If they don’t or there’s no consistency, this could make for a very long season wondering where the goals will come from. So speaking of goals, I have one more major worry. This is something many fans will cringe at the very mentioning of the topic.

Columbus Blue Jackets Cam Atkinson
Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson will see a lot more defensive attention. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)
Here we go again, right? It wouldn’t be a Blue Jackets’ season if we didn’t bring this painful topic up. But this season, it’s more important than ever.

If the Blue Jackets want to make noise this season, the power play must be a reason. They cannot have nights like Friday where they chalked up an 0-for-4 and wasted multiple 5-on-3 attempts.

The team elected to keep the coaching staff in tact. Given that they defeated Tampa Bay in the playoffs, they deserve the shot, that’s not the issue. The issue is that the same regime is running this power play that has run it the last couple of seasons where it has been a painful topic.

This is the season that the team must figure it out. No excuses. With goals already hard enough to come by, the way you make up for that is your power play. If the Blue Jackets want postseason again, they have to find a way to make this unit dangerous.

For years now, no one has feared them. They’re too predictable. And it’s amazing to see how consistently bad it’s been given the talent they’ve had. They have players who can score on the man advantage.

I know they’re trying new things and putting players in different positions looking for the spark. Maybe they will find the trick this season. But they haven’t put it together consistently yet. If it continues, the team from top to bottom must be held accountable.

John Tortorella Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella must finally find a way for his power play units to break through consistently.
Players have to find a way to enjoy success. Coaches have to put players in a position to succeed. Management has to put the right people in these spots. It’s been a source of pain and frustration for way too long. I haven’t seen any evidence yet that a dramatic improvement is coming. Yes, I am very worried about the power play. You keep giving the opposition momentum when it fails, and it has failed a lot more than it’s been successful. If it doesn’t work this season, changes better be coming.

The Blue Jackets do have one more game in the preseason against St. Louis on Sunday. Then the real games begin Friday vs. Toronto. Which version of the Blue Jackets are we going to see? Will we see the us against the world version that could make noise? Or will we get a team that just doesn’t stack up the way it used to?

I’m afraid they just don’t stack up like they used to. An 87-point season is still fighting for a playoff spot for most of the season. There will be good moments and it will be exciting to see the team grow together. But these are legitimate concerns the team must answer for. If they do make the playoffs this season, it’ll be considered perhaps their greatest accomplishment yet given where the expectations are to start.

But for the four reasons mentioned above, I’m afraid this season won’t be their season. The team says they’re confident. But I’ll believe that when I see results on the ice.

Also of note, Josh Anderson took a puck up high towards the end of the second period. He didn’t play during the final two minutes of the second but was back to start the third period. If Anderson is out to start the season, we can trace it back to tonight.

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