"We have nobody to blame but ourselves. ... We don't need individuals to come out and do more. We need individuals to be better at what they bring to our team."
--Todd Richards in the post-game press conference.
If the Blue Jackets are to right the ship and get back to the level of hockey we saw in the spring, they're going to have to do some serious soul-searching to get there. What kind of team do they want to be? They can claim to never be outworked, but you have to follow through on those machinations for it to mean anything. You can try to be a finesse, fancy-passing team, but you have to actually be able to make some of those passes connect. You can try to be a physical and intimidating team, like they tried to be tonight, but there needs to be some payoff for it.
Whatever the biggest issue might be, the Jackets are in some trouble right now. They hosted a Senators team that had lost five games in a row and that came in ranked 27th in goals-allowed per game and LAST in the league in shots-allowed per game. You had to figure this was the game on the homestand that was most winnable, right?
Let's relive the gory details.
The Jackets were juggling the lines again with Nick Foligno out, and Brandon Dubinsky moved onto the wing with Artem Anisimov and Marian Gaborik. David Savard was scratched on the blue line, which put Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson back together.
It appeared that the Jackets wanted to set a physical tone tonight, and Jared Boll and Matt Kassian treated us to a meaningless early fight just over two minutes in. Boll was looking for someone--anyone--to fight him, and Kassian obliged. Kassian rode his old-y time-y stance and used his size advantage to keep Boll at bay while landing a long series of kidney punches to end it.
The Senators were certainly driving play early: their passing was better, their zone possession was better. Slowly but surely, however, the Jackets tried to work their way into the lead. Around the four minute mark, the line of Ryan Johansen, R.J. Umberger, and Cam Atkinson had some very good zone possession, and then around the eight minute mark they had another good shift and got to work on goaltender Robin Lehner.
At the 9:00 mark, off a faceoff in the Senators' zone, the puck was below goal line and then trickled through traffic in front to Blake Comeau. The shot was stopped by Lehner, and in what would be a preview of most of the night, the rebound went off to the side and Mark Letestu got cleaned up by Chris Phillips before Letestu could get a stick on it. Lehner was the story in the stat book, but at times the Jackets helped him out too. One such time came at the 10:30 mark, as Dubinsky worked below goal line while Anisimov bled back in front. Duby sent the nice feed for the point-blank one-timer, but the shot was denied by Lehner as Anisimov shot it right into his body.
The Jackets would get the first chance on the man advantage, as Zack Smith tripped Umberger behind the Columbus net. The Power Play looked solid against one of the league's best PK units. Ryan Murray had a nice chance off a cross-ice feed from Gaborik, but he waited just a hair too long to get a wrist shot off and Lehner got set. There was some good movement on the PP and some good work to keep pucks in the zone, and they fired six shots but couldn't solve Lehner.
The Senators would then make the Jackets pay for their missed chances. Columbus had a poor clear from their zone, and Dubinsky lost the puck in the neutral zone. "Defenseman" Erik Karlsson took it right into the zone between four Jacket players. He cut in right on Murray and ripped a shot from the circle that beat Curtis McElhinney high to the glove side.
1-0 Senators, Erik Karlsson (5th) at 14:51 (unassisted) - EV
The Jackets would get another chance on the Power Play, as Kassian was sent off for tripping at 16:55 after dumping Comeau coming through the neutral zone. The first 30 seconds of the Power Play was a madhouse of traffic and shots, but Lehner was just beasting, stopping everything that came his way. Murray fired a shot that ricocheted to Dubinsky, who fired a slot backhander that a sprawling Lehner blocked. The Jackets couldn't get much else going on that Power Play.
And then came the pants-shitter.
In an awful breakdown, Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, and Clarke MacArthur were able to get it deep into the Jackets' zone with just two guys back. Anisimov went down to block a shot, and Nikitin was the only other guy in the play. Ryan circled the net and fed MacArthur uncovered for the one-timer that beat McElhinney to the far side.
WITH 3.9 SECONDS LEFT IN THE PERIOD. BACK-BREAKER.
2-0 Senators, Clarke MacArthur (2nd) at 19:56, from Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris - EV
End of 1st Period: 2-0 Senators
The officials took over in the second period, and at times the Jackets were fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. Derek MacKenzie took the puck deep early, and got essentially body-slammed by Mark Borowiecki. No call. DMac went to the front and cross-checked Borowiecki, and then they tussled. Mac lost his edges and went down, took some shots, and both went off for fighting.
1:40 in, Umberger would go off for "hooking" on the back check on Mika Zibanejad. To my eyes on the replay, it was another phantom call, and while there might have been some stick-checking, there was in no way any hooking. Thankfully, the Jackets' PK was one of the bright spots tonight, as they generated some short-handed chances and really didn't give the Senators a chance to set up.
Johnson went of for a cross-check of Cory Conacher at 4:59 after Conacher almost scored across the crease but was denied by a beautiful toe-save by McElhinney. While that call was legit, during the ensuing Power Play, MacArthur basically boarded Murray, and sent the rookie hard into the boards on his surgically repaired shoulder. Again, no call. Again, however, it was another strong PK and thankfully Murray made it back out for the rest of the game.
The missed chance of the game goes to Gaborik, who missed a wide open net 11:30 in. A Sens' defender turned the puck over behind his own net, and it trickled in front right onto Gaborik's stick. Lehner was down and essentially out of the play, and Gaborik waited and worked to get his right skate free of Lehner... and then missed the wide open net high and wide. Upon replay, it appeared that Phillips got a stick on it, but it also appeared Gaby might have waited a hair too long to let him.
End of 2nd: 2-0 Senators
The Jackets were pressing, going into the third period having not scored in 100 minutes. They got a nice gift, as Karlsson slashed Dubinsky on a strong rush to draw the penalty a minute and a half in. Where the first two Power Plays looked effective but had no results, this one looked dreadful but somehow got the Jackets back into the game. Frankly, the Power Play was ugly... until it wasn't. Falling down in the slot, Dubinsky sent the puck to Tyutin at the left point, and Toots cranked up a shot. The shot got blocked by Umberger and Marc Methot defending. Umberger fell to the ice, but as he was on his knees he managed to get a stick on it and slid the puck through Lehner's five-hole.
2-1 Senators - R.J. Umberger (2nd) at 3:02 from Fedor Tyutin and Brandon Dubinsky - PPG
The monkey off their backs after a 103:48 goalless span, the Jackets were right back in the game, and they were going against a team that has just been horrific at defense so far this season.
Boll would finally get the fight he wanted in Chris Neil, but it was Neil who would get the last laugh in this one.
The officials again played their role, as Dubinsky got 2:00 for interference at 9:45. Duby was trying to cut across the blue line to stay onside, and ran into a Sens player trying to get back. Pretty weak call. It was another good PK for Columbus, with some good offensive chances for Johansen and Atkinson, and with McElhinney making a BIG save on Karlsson at the end of the penalty.
But, the Jackets' horrible passing killed them one last time. They turned it over at the Sens' blue line after a stretch pass off the boards was too far down the ice, and Eric Gryba was able to poke it forward to Jason Spezza. All three Columbus forwards were caught out of the play, and Spezza carried it in on the right wing with Colin Greening with him and just two Jackets defenders back. Neil was trailing, as Umberger was caught up ice and couldn't get back fast enough. Neal was wide open for the drop pass and the shot, and he beat McElhinney with a snipe to the high blocker.
3-1 Senators - Chris Neil (2nd) at 13:55, from Jason Spezza and Eric Gryba - EV
For all intents and purposes, that was it. Prout also fought Neil after the Jackets drew a penalty with Neil boarding Nikitin. Way to flex your muscles, guys. Sadly, when the Jackets needed it the most, they turned in their worst Power Play of the night. They couldn't keep the puck in the zone, they managed just one shot--a one-timer from James Wisniewski at the point with no screen and no one there to get the rebound. The crowd--what little appeared to be left--was not pleased with the effort, nor should they have been.
Karlsson iced it with an empty netter from Spezza with 17.7 left.
4-1 Senators - Erik Karlsson (6th, 2nd of night) at 19:42, from Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek - EV/ENG
Final Score: 4-1 Senators
- Ryan Johansen - He was consistently the only forward that was dangerous almost every shift. As bad as the team is playing right now, I think we're seeing Johansen take that proverbial next step. He's using his size to win battles and control the puck, his vision is finally showing what we hoped we would see as a playmaker, and his defense has always been good. He's our best forward right now, in my opinion.
- R.J. Umberger - Have to tap the stick to Umby for the effort on the goal. He also appeared to have some extra jump after that as well. It would be nice to see him warm up a bit. Hell, it would be nice to see ANYone warm up.
- Robin Lehner - Sometimes he was more lucky than good, but damn it man they just couldn't get the puck past him. And, it was ironic to me that the one goal he gave up was actually pretty soft all things considered. That said, he stopped 32-of-33 shots, and bailed out his defense a time or three.
Bottom of the Barrel
- Jack Johnson - Turnovers. Bad passing. When he's generating offense, you can almost bear some of the defensive issues. But, he's not. (Really, no one is.)
- Passing and Fancy Pants - This team, at times, tries to play this crazy fancy finesse passing game. They just can't do it. Todd Richards admitted as much in the post game that there are too many times where they try to make the one additional fancy pass when they should just shoot the puck. I don't know if it's that they're playing all of the Eastern Conference teams that play a more wide-open, finesse game, but they're trying to do something they're not built to do.
- FINISH IT - I know they got a lot of shots tonight at Lehner, but often-times they were their own worst enemy, just waiting that extra second to get the "perfect" shot and allowing Lehner to recover. Murray's shot on the Power Play in the first as well as Gaborik's miss of the wide open net in the second come to mind.
The Rangers come in to town on Thursday for a game that has lost almost all of its luster from when the schedule came out. I am Jack's complete lack of interest.