It didn’t take long to notice the Blue Jackets’ focus wasn’t sharp Sunday in a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Nationwide Arena.
Marcus Bjork, a rookie defenseman, got the puck during his first shift and attempted an exit pass from deep in his own zone. He then watched in horror as the puck nearly deflected into the Columbus net off the skate of Blue Jackets star Patrik Laine.
The puck went just wide of the near post, settling on the left side of the net, but that was mostly what kind of night it was for the Blue Jackets — spoiling the vibes from an impressive road win Friday in Winnipeg.
Here are three takeaways:
Columbus Blue Jackets still too self-destructive
It’s hard to assess progress or regression thanks to the Blue Jackets’ plethora of injuries, which includes four defensemen. Those absences plus a rash of illness are forcing coach Brad Larsen to play up to seven rookies until some of the wounded return.
There’s no question that plays a role in the Jackets’ self-imposed mistakes, but it doesn’t account for the entire issue. It’s difficult to believe the problem will just vanish once some of the regulars return, because the Jackets were also 3-9-0 before the biggest rash of injuries hit.
This team has struggled with puck management from the start and that was an issue again Sunday. Columbus committed 10 giveaways according to the official stat sheet, but the number of turnovers they coughed up was likely much higher.
They fumbled passes. They sent pucks straight to Red Wings players. They sent passes to nobody. They forgot defensive coverages. They were also beaten in too many puck battles, committed costly penalties and were fortunate to trail just 2-0 after one period.
“It was here,” Larsen said, pointing at his head to illustrate his point. “I don’t know if it was mental fatigue, but some of the mistakes we made … holy smokes. A center-ice faceoff, we give up a 2-on-1 (and) my centerman’s just standing there. We weren’t plugged in (mentally) tonight.”
Larsen referred to a mistake off the opening draw of the second period, which was made by captain Boone Jenner. He’s one of the Jackets’ most dependable veterans, which says a lot about the Blue Jackets’ lack of focus in the first 30-plus minutes.
The Red Wings played for the second time in 24 hours and Husso started both games. Despite losing 4-1 to the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday at Little Caesar’s Arena, the Red Wings looked like the fresher team most of the game.
Bjork shows off shot on Columbus Blue Jackets power play
Imagine the situation Blue Jackets rookie Marcus Bjork has stumbled into this season. After not making the NHL roster out of fall camp, the 24-year old defenseman began his first season in North America with the Cleveland Monsters.
He played well, was promoted to the “quarterback” role for the Monsters’ top power-play unit and was recalled by the Blue Jackets on Nov. 12 because of the NHL team’s injury woes.
Bjork is now playing on the top pairing with Vladislav Gavrikov and quarterbacking the Blue Jackets’ first power-play group in the absence of Zach Werenski (shoulder surgery), Adam Boqvist (broken foot) and Jake Bean (shoulder surgery).
The wingers in that setup are stars Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine, so it’s no wonder Bjork has wrestled with how often he should take his own shot. The Red Wings’ penalty-killing units made the decision easier by leaving the slot wide open and Bjork made them pay for it.
His wrist shot late in the second capped a power play that cut the Bruins’ lead to 3-1 and shooting it was a decision the Blue Jackets’ coaching staff wants from Bjork a little more often.
“Every PK is different, but I want to be more of a threat to open it up for other guys on the power play,” Bjork said. “If I can shoot it more, it’s going to open up a lot of other plays too.”
Boone Jenner continues to produce for Columbus Blue Jackets
Outside of his coverage error on the opening face-off of the second period, Jenner was noticeable in good ways quite a bit. He assisted on both Blue Jackets goals, put four of his eight attempts on net and went 15 of 24 (63%) on draws.
Jenner wasn’t credited with a hit, but threw several big ones to win board battles or clear Red Wings players from the doorstep of the Blue Jackets’ crease. He also wears the ‘C’ for the Blue Jackets and tries to set a good example for younger teammates.
Jenner’s playmaking skill as a center is also emerging while playing with Gaudreau and Laine. This was his fifth multi-point game and second multi-assist effort of the season and extended his point streak to three games.
Gaudeau’s decision to sign a seven-year contract with the Blue Jackets drew criticism in NHL circles partly because of Jenner, who isn’t viewed as a true No. 1 pivot by many. Jenner feels differently and is showing it with nine goals, nine assists and 18 points in 23 games.