They say that if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say much at all, but that doesn't get the blog much in the way of page views, so I guess I'll have to give things a shot.
The good news for Blue Jackets fans is that they've reached the 3/4 point of the 2014-2015 season. There's no question it's been a hard, disappointing year, but there's still hope on the horizon.
Tonight was almost a microcosm of the struggles the team has dealt with, and it started right off the bat when Manny Malhotra won a faceoff in the Blue Jackets zone back to Andrei Markov, who wired a pass to P.K. Subban for a one-timer that beat Curtis McElhinney to open the scoring less than two minutes into the period.
There was a flash of hope as the Jackets responded almost immediately thanks to Brandon Dubinsky busting into the offensive zone and faking Carey Price out with a bit of a wiggle before firing a top-corner shot, but that turned to ashes as Tom Gilbert wiped out after the goal, slamming into Dubi from behind and sending him headfirst into the boards.
Dubinsky stayed down for a long moment, managed to make his way to the bench, and sat with head trainer Mike Vogt for a brief conversation before heading to the dressing room. The team later announced that the injury "didn't appear to be serious", but that he would not return for the rest of the game with an upper body injury.
The Jackets were off balance after Dubinsky's loss, and it wasn't long before Montreal took advantage. After Curtis McElhinney attempted to clear the puck from behind the net, David Desharnais intercepted and set up Andrei Markov before the goalie was able to get set back up into the net, the point shot blasting cleanly past his glove side.
The Jackets tried to return the favor, but Carey Price was back on his game, and they simply couldn't get enough sustained pressure to shake him, and as the period ran down, the Jackets were clearly anything but on their game.
Another bad clearing attempt was kept in at the line by Subban, who would move the puck down low and set up Max Pacioretty for a goal at the side of the net. Given his success against the Jackets this season, the only shock was that it took him 15 minutes into the period before scoring his 30th of the season - and his fifth goal of the Montreal / Columbus series.
That score would hold through the end of the period, though the Jackets would at least have a power play opportunity carrying over to start the second, giving some hope that they might be able to claw their way back.
Unfortunately, as the second began, Brandon Dubinsky wasn't the only player missing from the Columbus bench.
Fedor Tyutin would not start the period with the team, and though he eventually returned for limited ice time, the Columbus bench wasn't shortening so much as collapsing. Lines were shuffled, pairs re-arranged, and cohesion visibly eroded.
Unsurprisingly, the Jackets weren't getting much going offensively under those conditions, but they did a surprisingly good job of bottling the Canadiens up, pushing them back and getting rubber on Price - sometimes in the most remarkable fashion.
One of the best was a play by Corey Tropp that, well, I'm going to describe it, but you really should go check it out.
Tropp was driving to the net when the puck went up into the air, bouncing off the top of the cage. Falling to his back, Tropp managed to get his stick up and redirect the puck past Price, but the goal was waved off because of the official blowing the play dead when the puck hit the top of the net.
The war room, not realizing the play had been blown dead, attempted to review the goal (which otherwise would have been legal, and breathtaking!), but the intent to blow rule meant that the play could not be reviewed, much to the crowd's displeasure.
That chance, sadly, was the closest the Jackets came to cracking Price in the second, and though they outshot Montreal 12-6 in the period, the Canadiens still had firm control of the game.
The third period began, and it wasn't long before Montreal tightened that control just a little bit more, and even upheld the old tradition of having a player score his first NHL goal in Columbus just to add a little more salt to the wound.
Canadiens rookie Jacob De La Rose will remember this game for a long time, but even he will admit it was kind of an unremarkable play. Taking a shift with Brandon Prust, the Swedish winger was in the right spot to deflect the veteran's shot past McElhinney and into the net for his first career marker, and he celebrated to the sound of thousands of TVs being changed to the Food Network.
Sadly, the people who decided to bail would miss one of the few positive moments in the game - as the Jackets did their best to respond to the De La Rose goal, the Foligno / Anisimov / Dano line was reassembled and did an excellent job (along with a few nice keep ins from David Savard) of putting real pressure on Price, getting the puck to the net again and again, until finally Marko Dano was able to flip the rebound of an Artem Anisimov shot up and over Price's shoulder for his third goal of the season.
You have to find pleasure in the little things at this point in the season, and Dano's excitement at scoring (and the offensive tenacity that he showed to create it) was really great to see. Even better, the fans who kept the faith at Nationwide seemed to grasp that, too, and it wasn't long before we started to hear "Marko....DANO!" chants rolling around the stands.
As time wound down, the Jackets searched for a goal to cut the two goal deficit, but simply weren't able to get anything past Price. With two minutes left in regulation, Coach Richards called for a time out, and it wasn't a surprise to see the net emptied for an extra attacker...and unfortunately, much like their meeting on Saturday, the Canadiens would find their way past the extra attackers, and tonight it would be De La Rose scoring his second NHL goal (and second of the night) in a bit more memorable fashion, winding up and hammering the shot down the ice and into the empty cage.
There's not much else to really say. More injuries, more frustration, more struggles...but more signs of silver linings under the clouds, and some real hope for the future.
22 games left. A new player coming into the mix (hopefully) for Saturday's game against the Devils. A chance that perhaps Dubi, Bob, Tyutin, or Kevin Connauton will be able to rejoin the lineup this weekend.
There's probably going to be more games like tonight in there. But there's a pretty good chance that the pain we're feeling today will lead to positives next season. So you just try to find a few good things, and keep going.
What else can we do?