Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Once more unto the abyss: A game-by-game breakdown of the Blue Jackets' horrible start

It’s over. With Saturday night’s 4-3 decision over the Avalanche, the Blue Jackets finally snapped an eight-game losing streak and got into the win column for the first time on the season. The streak is dead.

It’s hard to overstate just how awful the Blue Jackets’ 0-8-0 start had been. The NHL has a long and glorious history of teams getting off to season-crushingly terrible starts, but none quite like this. No team in the past seven decades has managed to start a season without earning so much as a single point through its first eight games. None of the modern era’s biggest losers — not the 1974-75 Capitals, or the 1992-93 Senators or Sharks, or even the 2009-2010 Maple Leafs — had ever face-planted out of the gate quite that badly.

You have to go all the way back to the 1940s to find a start as bad as the one the Blue Jackets just suffered through. That would be the 1943-44 Rangers, who lost their first 11 and didn’t win a game until mid-December. And while the Blue Jackets didn’t quite reach that level of futility, when you factor in the weight of expectations (not to mention the presence of the loser point), I think there’s a pretty reasonable case to be made that the Blue Jackets’ start was the worst the NHL has ever seen, from anyone, at any time.

Remember, it was only three weeks ago that the Blue Jackets were itching to drop the puck on a regular season that was teeming with optimism. After a strong finish to 2014-15, a big trade in the offseason, and a strong performance over the preseason schedule, the Blue Jackets were ready to storm out of the gate and claim a place among the Metro’s contenders. Some well-known experts were even picking them to go to the conference finals.

And then came 0-8-0. And while it’s over now, like all wonderful things, we shouldn’t let The Streak fade into the fringes of our memories. No, we need to cherish it, to hold it close, to press it tightly against our cold little hockey fan hearts. And so today, we’re going to say goodbye to the Blue Jackets’ losing streak in the best way we know how: By reliving it, one game at a time. For Blue Jackets fans, it will be cathartic. For the rest of us, well, it might make us feel better about our own lousy teams.

So travel back with me to a time long past, in a long-ago era when the city of Columbus was happy and the Blue Jackets were going to be good. Eighteen whole days ago, to be precise.

0-1-0 — October 9, Rangers at Blue Jackets

The opponent: The Blue Jackets don’t get any early favors from the schedule-maker, as they start the season with a home-and-home against the team that won the Metro last season.

Reason for optimism: Sure, it’s a tough opponent, but that’s what you want, right? This is going to be the year that the Blue Jackets establish themselves as contenders in the Metro, and there’s no better way to send a message than by beating the defending champs.

Columbus fans are thinking: The Rangers, huh? Good. It’s like your first day in prison — you go over to the biggest guy in the yard and pop him in the mouth, right?

Bad omen: Less than a minute in, the Blue Jackets are storming the Rangers’ crease when a loose puck squirts out to Ryan Murray, who has an open net. He fans on the shot.

What happened: With the game tied at 1 with less than four minutes to go in the third, big offseason acquisition Brandon Saad scores on the power play to give the Blue Jackets the lead. But then they collapse, giving up two Rangers goals in 17 seconds, then one more a minute after that. The Rangers win, 4-2.

Highlight: The Blue Jackets look great early on, taking the game to New York in front of a raucous home crowd. When Saad snaps home what looks like it will be the winner, the place comes unglued. This season is going to be fun!

Lowlight: Kevin Hayes’ game winner is awful, coming on a nearly impossible angle from deep in the corner.

Depressing postgame quote: “It’s early in the season. I’m not going to read too much into it after one game,” says team captain Nick Foligno, while wondering where all that foreshadowing thunder and lightning is coming from.

Sadness rating: 2/10. OK, that hurts, but nobody was expecting them to go 82-0-0. And hey, at least they get a quick rematch, right?

0-2-0 — October 10, Blue Jackets at Rangers

The opponent: The Rangers. You may remember them from their recent work in “Three goals in 77 seconds.”

Reason for optimism: Despite the loss, the Blue Jackets had been the better team for 57 minutes the night before. They just need to put together a full game this time.

Columbus fans are thinking: You know, a split here won’t be the worst thing in the world.

Bad omen: Just 80 seconds in, a brutal giveaway by Fedor Tyutin results in a Rangers 2-on-0 in front of Sergei Bobrovsky that Oscar Lindberg buries.

What happened: Lindberg adds another, followed by Dominic Moore, and the Blue Jackets are down 3-0 before the game is six minutes old. They go on to lose, 5-2.

Highlight: Late in the first, Bobrovsky stops Rangers sniper Rick Nash on a penalty shot, because it’s becoming apparent than no Blue Jackets draft pick will ever score a big goal again.

Lowlight: When Moore finds the net, the Blue Jackets have surrendered six goals in less than nine minutes of action against the Rangers over two nights.

Depressing postgame quote: “We aren’t going to win games by giving up five goals,” predicts head coach Todd Richards. Accurately, as it turns out.

Sadness rating: 4/10. OK, tough start. But luckily, the schedule serves up a cupcake next...

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