After last night's win against the Calgary Flames, the Blue Jackets packed their bags and made their way up to Ottawa, looking to take that momentum into their first major road trip of the 2014-15 season.
Making the decision to forgo a morning skate, the team got as much rest as possible through Saturday evening, then hit the ice behind Curtis McElhinney, who would start his first game this season.
They came out firing against Robin Lehner and the Senators, but early attempts failed to penetrate the Swedish netminder's guard (one Alexander Wennberg chance, in particular, was only stopped by an insane behind the back stick save), and though the Senators struggled in their own end, they received a break of luck when Mike Hoffman broke out of the zone and charged down the ice, drawing a penalty shot as he was hauled down on his way to the net.
McElhinney stayed cool as Hoffman came in slow, and easily turned the attempt aside, but the Jackets could not convert that energy into an advantage. Instead, after a few more back and forth exchanges between the two teams, it would be the Senators opening the scoring, and Hoffman came back to play a big part.
Breaking past Fedor Tyutin as he entered the Columbus zone, Hoffman got Dalton Prout to break off his assignment and chase him across the ice, opening up the entire right side of the zone. Passing off to the now wide open David Legwand, the former Predator crashed the net and stuffed the puck past C-Mac for his second goal of the season.
1-0 Senators: David Legwand (2nd) @ 15:57 from Hoffman (1) and Neil (1)
That goal seemed to knock the Jackets off their game. Rattled, they struggled to get the puck moving back towards the Ottawa net, and when they finally gained the zone, they failed to get the puck on the net.
Things got worse when Mark Stone attempted to carry the puck out of his own zone and past Jack Johnson, and the big defenseman's attempt to step into him with a hard shoulder check ended up in a knee-on-knee hit due to bad positioning. Stone would leave the ice with assistance from a trainer (though he would return to the game late in the second period), while Johnson was sent to the penalty box along with Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris, who had started to drop the gloves in the ensuing scrum.
The Columbus PK was doing a decent job of keeping the Senators under control, but when Mika Zibanejad burst past James Wisniewski, he would take another penalty for interference as he attempted to slow down the young forward.
Remarkably (and in no small part due to a bit of puck luck when shots from Bobby Ryan and Erik Karlsson hit the crossbar), the Jackets managed to make it to the intermission only down 1-0, though they still had almost a minute and a half shorthanded to open the second.
Fortunately, things got a little better for Columbus when Kyle Turris would take an offsetting penalty in the opening seconds of the middle frame, and the Jackets PK continued their strong play, though the brief power play was unable to come up with an equalizer.
Unfortunately, not long afterward, things got worse.
Clarke MacArthur broke past the Jackets' defense and into the neutral zone amid a Columbus line change, quickly turning it into an odd man rush with his captain.
Nick Foligno attempted to throw himself in front of the pass, but unfortunately his momentum not only carried him past the puck, but sent him into the net just after McElhinney attempted to freeze Karlsson's shot, wiping him out and carrying the puck into the net for what (after video review) would be called a good goal.
2-0 Senators: Erik Karlsson (2nd) @ 07:02 from MacArthur (2)
Injury was added to insult when it became clear that McElhinney was not able to shake off the impact, and team trainer Mike Vogt was quickly called to the crease.
After several minutes, McElhinney would be helped off the ice and down the tunnel, and Sergei Bobrovsky would come into the game, taking over for the rest of the evening.
Perhaps appropriately, after Foligno played a big part in Ottawa scoring their second goal, he'd finally help get Columbus on the board.
The top line was buzzing all night, but after Bob came into the game they got particularly aggressive. After several furious exchanges, Foligno and Johansen broke into the Senators zone. Foligno came across the middle of the ice, lost the puck, got it back, and fired from a from a sharp angle, where the puck hit Lehner, then got kicked back into the net by Patrick Wiercioch as he attempted to block Ryan Johansen away from the rebound.
2-1 Senators: Nick Foligno (2nd) @ 13:57 from Hartnell (4) and Erixon (1)
Fans in Columbus started to perk up after that, and the Jackets took on an extra spring in their step as well after the goal, and it wasn't long before the top line ended up driving the play into the Ottawa zone again.
This time, Johansen would steal the puck away in the neutral zone, then passed off to Foligno. Unable to get a good shot, Foligno curled back to the boards, and saw David Savard charging in with a clear shooting lane. Throwing the puck back to the blue line, Savard stepped into a booming shot that would blast through traffic and past Lehner before he knew it was there.
2-2 TIE: David Savard (1st) @ 14:38 from Foligno (5th) and Johansen (4th)
Things got a little scrambly over the final five minutes of the period, but neither team found an edge before the next intermission, giving both sides a chance to catch their breath and work on adjustments for the final frame.
Columbus once again hit the ice firing, but Robin Lehner was on top of the initial shots, and the Jackets couldn't take advantage of the frequent rebounds thanks to a combination of good defense and bad puck luck (including two occasions where Cam Atkinson seemed to have a goal on his stick, but hit iron or went wide.)
Finally, someone got a bounce...but it wasn't a Blue Jacket.
Chris Neil sent a clearing attempt out from behind the Ottawa net that bounced up the ice and into the neutral zone past Hoffman, who gave chase. The puck took a bounce off the boards and around Jack Johnson, and Hoffman was able to get behind the defender (with a little help from the linesman, who blocked Johnson's path to the puck). David Savard attempted to cut off his path to the net, but Hoffman took a chip shot at the top of the crease that bounced over Sergei Bobrovsky's shoulder, and put the Senators back in the lead.
3-2 Senators: Mike Hoffman (1) @ 09:38 from Neil (2nd)
After that, the Blue Jackets tried their damndest to find a tying goal, including shuffling the line combinations and pulling Bob for the extra attacker with two minutes left in regulation, but it didn't come together. (Though Cam Atkinson had a heartstopping near miss that he's probably going to see in his dreams tonight.)
Time ran down, and on a night where the team just never really seemed to get on the same page, they skated off the ice and into the tunnel, knowing that this was a game that slipped out of their hands.
Final Score: Senators 3, Blue Jackets 2
- Ryan Johansen - The Johan continues his points streak, and his line (in a few different configurations) was one of Columbus' driving forces all night.
- Nick Foligno - His goal had a certain amount of puck luck, but he spent the whole game working to make things happen, no matter who he was on the ice with, and that paid off in both his goal and in setting up Savard.
- Sergei Bobrovsky - This was a tough situation, and Bob did his damndest to salvage it.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- Nick Foligno - I realize that the injury to C-Mac was 20% bad luck, 80% freak accident, but damn, man. And it's notable that his attempt to block MacArthur's pass made things worse, not better - even before he laid himself out, it probably would have been better to let C-Mac square off and face down the shot.
- Defensive Choices - Everyone made some serious defensive hiccups tonight, but Dalton Prout and Jack Johnson both stood out for some bizarre decisions that lead to painful consequences. Nobody really seemed to know what to do with themselves tonight in their own zone, and it lead to a lot of chaos for both teams.
- Passing, Not Shooting - There were four different times, at least, where a Blue Jacket had the puck, had a clear shooting lane, and the man advantage (either due to PP / empty net or simply an odd man rush), and chose to drop a pass back or dump the puck rather than putting it on the net. Even during the final two minutes, where this team NEEDED a goal, guys were putting the puck on the perimeter or cycling down, rather than trying to get it to the net where Lehner had been repeatedly coughing up rebounds. Perfect has ALWAYS been the enemy of good enough, and this team doesn't have the skill to dance their way around all five skaters. Shoot the puck and hit the net, dammit.
If this game had gone to OT and the same kind of GWG happened for the Senators, I'd have said it was a good comeback and a solid effort despite some head scratching moments. As it is, it was still a good effort, but it felt like a lot of guys played not only against type, but without paying attention to the things that made this team successful in the past few years. I'm not sure if this is a case of overconfidence, of poor preparation, or just a crazy night where they clearly put a lot of energy into what they were doing, but didn't quite do the right things.
Regardless, it's a bit of an odd duck, and the news that McElhinney suffered a head injury (and it sounded awfully like a possible concussion, though head coach Todd Richards refused to be drawn into saying that during his post game presser) means that the Jackets are probably going to have to make a move, either calling up Anton Forsberg from Springfield, or possibly looking at the few remaining free agents out there should this be a long term injury. (Can you imagine the reactions if Jarmo gave Ilya Bryzgalov a call?)
One way or the other, the team will make their way out West for the next three games, beginning with San Jose on Thursday night. They're stepping into a crucible, and while three games won't make or break the season this early, it may tell us quite a bit about what kind of team we really have.