The Pressure Could (And Probably Will) Crush Columbus

Not worried about Blue Jackets in Penguins' playoff push

Matt Koll
March 07, 2019 - 12:21 pm
Jake Guentzel scores vs. CBJ

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This is a column that has potential to look really, really bad in a month or two. But I'd be shocked. 

These next two games are big. For both teams.

But for the Blue Jackets, it’s another level.

If you tune in tonight and Saturday, you are going to see a completely desperate Columbus team that’s meeting their greatest foe in their most important time.

It isn’t anything new for the Blue Jackets. In fact, two out of the last three times they were in the playoffs they were bounced by the Penguins (2014, 2017).

The Penguins have been the Columbus kryptonite for many years now and here they come barreling into the Blue Jackets schedule when they need wins to get themselves into the postseason.

In many ways, Columbus is like another Ohio team in a different sport: the Cincinnati Bengals.

They’ve put together young, talented rosters capable of getting into the postseason and maybe making some noise but just can’t get over the hump.

Most times, it’s the Pittsburgh team that stops them as well.  You can look to the AFC Wild Card Game loss to the Steelers in 2005 when Kimo Von Oelhoffen knocked out Carson Palmer, the Week 17 OT loss to the Steelers in 2006 that knocked them out of the playoff race in Bill Cowher’s final game at the helm, and of course the 2015 Wild Card Game in which Vontaze Burfict’s illegal hit on Antonio Brown and Pacman Jones freaking out on Joey Porter assured them defeat.

Because of the lack of postseason success (they’ve never won a playoff series in franchise history), the Blue Jackets face much of the same pressure and doubt from fans as the Bengals do when they get in, being as the Bengals  haven’t won a playoff game since 1990.

When it comes to important games late in the year, much like Steelers-Bengals, you bet on the Penguins to beat the Blue Jackets. That’s just the way it is.

This year is no different. In actuality, if there is any year I expect the Blue Jackets to fail it’s this one.

There was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding this team as trade rumors swirled involving free agents-to-be Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Being as the Jackets have hung around the postseason cut off line for most of the season, many expected them to sell their assets and get something in return while they could.

Instead, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen went all in. He kept Panarin and “Bob” and was praised around the league for his haul at the trade deadline. Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid and goalie Keith Kinkaid were all brought in.

Kinkaid is an interesting add, considering Bobrovsky has struggled in past playoff appearances and Kinkaid owns a 6-3-2 record and a .912 save percentage against the Penguins in his career. Oh and he already beat them three times this season with the Devils.

The Blue Jackets are staring their opportunity to go for a Stanley Cup in the face and loading up. They’re going for it. Good for them. That’s how organizations should do it.  

But I believe it’s also why they will probably crack under the pressure.

It seems like everyone around the organization knows this is it. With impending free agents, being deemed “winners” at the trade deadline and building one of the most talented rosters in the league, this is their shot.

With great moves comes great responsibility…er…something like that.

It’s never easy trying to fit new pieces onto your team, especially talented ones that may not be used to a certain system or style of play. Ask the Penguins and Derick Brassard about that. It can send a team into disarray. Teams often times need games, practices and time to gel together.

The problem the Blue Jackets have is a lack of time and games to figure things out. As of Thursday, they are two points out of a Wild Card spot with 16 games to go. They need to win immediately.

So far, not so good. They are 4-3 since acquiring Matt Duchene and 2-3 since the trade deadline.  It looks like the Blue Jackets are far closer to the “disarray” than the “gel” part of adding to a team.

Their struggles are encapsulated in this quote from Cam Atkinson.

"Guys are just panicking for some reason. We have a lot of skilled players, and guys are afraid to make five-foot passes, tape-to-tape passes, then guys are running around out of position and we're just throwing the puck off the glass and not helping our D out. We're a blue-collar team and where we thrive is off our forecheck and banging and creating turnovers. That's where we get all of our goals and for whatever reason it seems like we think we're a highly skilled team that is just going to out-skill every team. We have to get back to the good habits and working hard.”

Columbus has gone from a grinding team to a skill-based one and seems to have no identity right now.

The Blue Jackets have shown they collapse under pressure in the past. You add in a “do or die” quotient, along with a new roster while being behind in the standings with seven straight games against playoff teams on the schedule into this and you expect me to believe they are going to rise up instead of crumble and fall?

I’ll believe it when I see it. I haven’t seen it yet.

The results of these next two games against the Penguins won’t ultimately determine their fate, but I bet those don’t go so well from them, either.

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