COLUMBUS, OH – DECEMBER 20: Nick Foligno #71 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the Los Angeles Kings on December 20, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

On one hand, the Columbus Blue Jackets have 68 points going into this weekend’s NHL All-Star break, good for second in the Eastern Conference and third in the entire league. On the other, Columbus has lost seven of its 12 games since its incredible 16-game winning streak ended with a loss to Washington three weeks ago.

So are these Blue Jackets legit, or are they an inexperienced team destined to fade in the second half of the regular season?

Before leaving the team prior to Thursday’s loss in Nashville due to what the team called a family emergency, John Tortorella — who won’t coach the Metropolitan All-Stars this weekend in Los Angeles and is slated to return to the team next week — was not high on the team’s play while speaking to the media in Brooklyn.

“We don’t play hard enough right now,” Tortorella said. “And this has gone on for a little bit with our club.”

Tortorella said he had a pointed video session on Tuesday with his young group — the team’s average age on opening night was the youngest in the league, per James Mirtle — to actually show his players that they needed to step up their collective effort.

“Sometimes players, they think they are playing hard, but when they see it on the video, especially today, I think they realize they’re not,” Tortorella said. “Nothing else we should be concerned about, x’s and o’s-wise or strategy-wise come to the forefront unless we decide to play hard. And we haven’t. We’ve been very vanilla as far as our effort, and I think that has to change.”

Columbus has gotten to this point, third in goals scored per game; fourth in goals allowed per game; first in power play; and 9th in penalty kill percentage because of its younger players and outstanding goaltending from 28-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky, who’s fifth in the league in goals against and fourth in save percentage.

Four of its top five leaders in points are aged 27 and under. Cam Atkinson, a 27-year-old Connecticut native, is second in the NHL in goals with 24, behind just Sidney Crosby’s 28. Swedish center Alexander Wennberg, 22, is tied for fourth in the league with 32 assists.

“I think he’s taken more of a responsibility to be a number one center,” Tortorella said of Wennberg.

Columbus’ third leading scorer is Nick Foligno, its 29-year-old captain. After a 4-2 loss to the Islanders on Tuesday, Foligno was blunt about where his team is at right now.

“We’ve not done anything, contrary to our good start,” he said. 

The Blue Jackets are still comfortably in the playoffs right now, 12 points clear of Philadelphia, currently the holder of the East’s second wild card, but the Metropolitan Division is currently extremely competitive.

“We’re in a good position and that can change quickly,” Foligno said. “This league is coming for us and we have to be coming for them. We have to be the team on the hunt. We need to be the team that’s hungry for points. We just don’t have that hunger.”

Foligno’s assistant captain is 30-year-old center Brandon Dubinsky, who’s reached the playoffs just once in his five seasons in Ohio’s capital. He said that his Blue Jackets needed to play with a lot more desperation.

“We can’t be fat and happy looking at ourselves and where we’re at and how good we’ve played those first 40 games or so,” Dubinsky said. “A lot of us have been in these situations before, where it’s January and you’ve got some urgency because of where you’re at, and where you need to get to. So we’ve gotta pick up that same urgency and match it.”

He hesitated after being asked if the team got complacent after that 16-game winning streak.

“I don’t want to say that. It’s a tough question to answer,” Dubinsky told The Comeback. “We certainly haven’t played well enough since then. But we’ve gotta play better. But that’s in the past. That happened weeks ago. That was over weeks ago.”

Tortorella wondered if the young Blue Jackets weren’t playing as hard in anticipation of getting a few days off during the All-Star break. Their win streak came to an end shortly after the NHL bye week, which took place around New Year’s. Will they play better after this break ends next week?

Are they gonna wait a couple more games until after the break, they get a rest and now they’ll go?” Tortorella asked.

Playing around .500 the rest of the way might not be enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. If the Blue Jackets can recapture its strong start, it’ll be a tough out in the playoffs.

“I just think we’re mediocre right now,” Tortorella said, “but I think there’s some real promise at least if we take the right steps like we had the first half of the year.”

If Columbus can’t take the right steps to capitalize off its good start in the first half of the season, a second half fade would definitely qualify the Jackets as one of the league’s disappointing stories in 2016-2017. And as of now, a collapse definitely can’t be ruled out.

About Shlomo Sprung

Shlomo Sprung is a writer and columnist for Awful Announcing. He's also a senior contributor at Forbes and writes at FanSided, SI Knicks, YES Network and other publications.. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, Business Insider, Sporting News and Major League Baseball. You should follow him on Twitter.