NASHVILLE – Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Marc Methot is tired of losing, just like the rest of his teammates. Methot was drafted by Columbus in 2003 and has yet to really get a taste of winning. This season, with the Blue Jackets comfortably dead-last in the entire NHL, has been especially difficult for the franchise.
“Having your playoff hopes eliminated early isn’t an easy thing to go through as a player, especially when it happens around Christmas and you still have to play from there on out,” Methot said last week. “It’s really tough to play hockey when the games don’t mean as much as they would normally mean.”
The task for interim head coach Todd Richards, who replaced Scott Arniel on Jan. 9, is a difficult one. There hasn’t much positivity in the Blue Jackets’ room this season, and there are still two months left in their tumultuous campaign. Richards is doing his best to keep things upbeat.
“You do try some different things here and there to try to make it fun again. It’s a game,” Richards said. “Where we’re at, there haven’t been a lot of bright moments. There have been a lot of tough days. You might do some things in practice, some things in morning skates, in the locker room to lighten the mood a little bit.”
Methot said of Richards, “He’s trying to be as positive as he can and start teaching over again and get back to the basics. That’s really all we can do right now. He’s done a terrific job keeping us in a good mood and allowing us to enjoy coming to the rink.”
It’s especially tough to remain positive, as Methot mentioned, when games in the second half are meaningless in the standings. Nonetheless, the swap behind the bench from Arniel to Richards was a wake-up call to the Blue Jackets’ room.
“Any time you make a significant change like changing your head coach, it wakes everybody up,” Methot said. “It’s a new voice in the dressing room and (Richards has) really brought a positive attitude to the team. It gave us a little bit of a jolt. We’re playing a lot more responsibly and it’s made a big change in our game.”
The compete level of Richards’ club was elevated for the first handful of games after he took over behind the bench. But that has seemed to have faded away in the last three games, where the Blue Jackets have been out-scored by a combined 14-3 in Nashville, Tampa Bay and San Jose.
Among many factors, injuries have definitely had an effect on the Blue Jackets this season. In the team’s first 50 games, Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski – GM Scott Howson’s prized off-season acquisitions – have played in the same game just 21 times. Other key players have been in and out of the lineup, making it hard for the Blue Jackets to have much consistency.
“Whenever you’re missing those guys, those are tough holes to fill,” Richards said of Carter and Wisniewski. “Obviously it excites you as a coach when you start getting those guys back. … If we can start to add more guys with the skill and finish, hopefully we can start putting more pucks in the net start getting more wins.”
No matter when Carter and Wisniewski return, or if the team starts winning more often, this will go down as a lost season for the Blue Jackets. They are on pace for a paltry 52 points, which would be tied for the lowest total the NHL has seen since the Atlanta Thrashers’ expansion season, when they accumulated 39 points in 1999-2000.
Those pre-season hopes of making a second playoff appearance were history before the calendar even flipped to 2012. But as Methot points out, most players in the room still have a lot to play for.
“We’re trying to stay positive and not get down on ourselves,” he said. “We have to keep that upbeat attitude. Guys are playing for contracts and trying to stay in the league. That’s a lot of incentive right there.”
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