COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets’ most pressing period of play Thursday came in the final minutes of the third period, as they scrambled to try to overcome a two-goal deficit against the Arizona Coyotes.
It’s the type of desperation you’d expect from a club that has won a game since October 21, but the surprise – once again – has been which players haven’t made it of the final effort.
Patrik Laine did not play for the final 9:53 of the game. Johnny Gaudreau was on the bench for the final 6:15. That’s 432 career goals to watch from the bench as the Blue Jackets fell to 1-7-4 in their last 12 games.
Those two, who spluttered offensively with teammate Yegor Chinakhov, were on the ice when Arizona scored its second goal 28 seconds into the third period to take a 3-1 lead. Chinakhov also didn’t play for the final 9:53, but that’s not as telling that Laine and Gaudreau ended up on the bench.
Blue Jackets coach Pascal Vincent instead leaned heavily on rookie Adam Fantilli’s line, with wingers Dmitri Voronkov and Kirill Marchenko, late in the game.
“I coach a team,” Vincent said. “I don’t coach individuals. These guys were going there, they were going to play. This is what we have done all year.
“Once the game starts, we have 18 guys and two goalies. Tonight, these were the guys who were going, and that’s why they were on the ice.
When asked if the opposite was true for Gaudreau and Laine, Vincent delivered perhaps his best line so far this season.
“To ask that question is to answer that question,” he said.
Few considered the Blue Jackets to be playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference this season, although general manager Jarmo Kekalainen insisted that was the goal, and Vincent echoed that possibility this week after a disappointing 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh.
But the fact that they landed in the basement of the conference standings – where they finished last season, remember? – is breathtaking. And that probably won’t change until Gaudreau, Laine and others emerge from their early-season blues.
Gaudreau, who had two shots on goal Thursday, has scored one goal all season, into an empty net. He has one point and one assist in his last seven games.
Laine, who was back at center Thursday, had no shots on goal and won 2 of 8 faceoffs. He has one goal in four games since returning from a concussion early in the season, but his most notable act Thursday was smashing his stick against the wall in front of the bench after a frustrating changeup.
“I feel for our players right now,” Vincent said. “They work hard. They do so many good things that we forget because of these little mistakes. And the first thing you know, when we make a mistake, the puck is in our net.
“I feel for them because they work hard. It really is. They are all up for it. They want to do the right things. But when (the Coyotes) score this goal, we are a little fragile.
The game was tied 1-1 until midway through the third period. Arizona’s Logan Cooley scored a power-play goal at 9:39 to give the Coyotes the lead, and the score became 3-1 just 28 seconds later when Lawson Crouse scored. Blue Jackets defenseman Erik Gudbranson had the puck taken off his stick behind the Columbus net by Nick Bjugstad, who fed a wide-open Crouse.
It was for the Laine line. Gaudreau took over later in the period with Cole Sillinger and Boone Jenner, but was otherwise benched.
The Blue Jackets’ goals were both scored by veteran defenseman Damon Severson, his second and third of the season. They both came from a similar spot in the right circle, the first to give the Jackets a 1-0 lead early in the second, and the latter to make it 3-2 for the Coyotes with 1: 57 to play.
Severson has as many goals as Gaudreau and Laine combined, a telling statistic.
“We can’t grip our sticks too tight,” Severson said. “We’ve lost several games in a row now. The worst that can happen is that we continue to lose. So why not be aggressive and make something that makes a difference? We have to play our game and just be confident.
Confidence is not an issue for Fantilli and his teammates. Fantilli had 10 shots on goal Thursday, while Marchenko had six and Voronkov had four. Voronkov had an assist on Severson’s first goal, giving him points in four of his last five games.
“I bring everything I can every night,” Fantilli said. “Sometimes it just doesn’t work.” But I try to score, to do what I can for this team. I want to win. I’ve said it 100 times: I hate losing. I hate this losing streak. I despise him. I want to do everything I can every night.
“I thought we were tight defensively. I thought we did our best to make the transition, but we didn’t make the most of our chances. This seems to be a theme at the moment. It’s really frustrating.
So far, this season doesn’t really feel like last season, which was already over at this point. Not only were the Blue Jackets losing games, but they had already lost several season starters to injuries. These Blue Jackets are mostly healthy, with the exception of Jack Roslovic (fractured ankle).
But the two seasons are not totally different either. In fact, the Blue Jackets were 6-10-1 (13 points) in 17 games last season. The 2023-24 version is 4-9-4.
“It’s the NHL,” Vincent said. “No one will give you anything. We cannot feel sorry for ourselves. Tomorrow we will get up and do it again. Find a solution, work together.
(Photo by Johnny Gaudreau: Jason Mowry / Getty Images)
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