After a painful and frustrating OT loss to the Penguins on Wednesday, John Tortorella called out his veterans a bit, saying he needed more from them.
(Oddly enough you can find almost an identical quote from a game in late December in 2015. And 2016. Perhaps there’s just something special about this time of year.)
The problem with that theory comes when you look at the many significant players missing from the roster right now.
If you’ll allow me an analogy - a hockey team is a lot like a car engine. They’re both resilient, they can both be set up for many different types of performance, and you can pull a rather shocking amount of parts off of them and the damn thing will still do its best to run when you turn the keys.
But even the most robust, well built, and well tuned engine will hit a point where you’ve lost too many pieces for it to run, and sometimes adding parts back in just makes you that much more aware of how much is missing.
Tonight was, in a lot of ways, that kind of night.
The return of Zach Werenski was welcome, but there were times he didn’t quite seem in sync with anyone else on the ice, and while the many, many, many defensive miscues that lead to Ottawa counterattacks and goals were not just on him, it certainly was part of the foul stew.
The struggles for the team to find their footing were obvious from the start of the game. Josh Anderson would draw a slashing penalty, giving the Jackets the first man advantage of the game - but it would be the Senators who created two scoring chances from it, and only a bit of luck and Sergei Bobrovsky making a scrambling save would keep the game scoreless.
To their credit, the Columbus penalty kill had their own moments of brilliance - particularly Tyler Motte, who nearly converted on a short handed rush of his own - but Mike Condon put in solid work in the Ottawa net, taking away his angle and shutting him down.
The first period would be a scoreless tale of missed connections and wasted opportunities, but the Blue Jackets seemed to be getting it together as they went into the second - the engine smoothing itself out, if you will, as things had a chance to run in.
Sonny Milano would break through for the first time in twenty games, working as an Ottawa penalty expired to move the puck, go to the net, and cashed in a rebound off the end boards.
The lead, sadly, was short lived - Jordan Schroeder would cough up the puck inside the Blue Jackets defensive zone on a turnover, and former Jacket Derick Brassard would take the puck high as Bobrovsky focused on the close in threat of Mark Stone, leaving a good bit of open net to shoot at.
That didn’t seem to panic the Columbus bench, though. Quite the opposite, in fact, with Josh Anderson working a drive to the net after Artemi Panarin performed an gorgeous robbery to restore the lead, and Sonny Milano scoring his second of the night on the following shift. The engine wasn’t just running, it was revving up as the Blue Jackets seemed ready to take control of the game.
But unfortunately things changed very, very quickly, and it wasn’t long before that engine started to knock, sputter, and smoke.
If you haven’t seen the goal that Sergei Bobrovsky let in to make it a 3-2 game, you probably don’t want to. Suffice it to say that Bob decided to play a puck that he probably should have just frozen, and he rolled one hell of a crit fail on his Dexterity check.
Much will also be made of Jack Johnson committing a severe turnover that would hand the puck to Matt Duchene, and he certainly did, but there was more than enough failure to go around at the end of the period, and in the final twenty minutes of regulation as well.
There was some real excitement to start the third when Panarin sent Anderson in for another breakaway in the opening minute, but his shot would strike the outside of the iron after beating Condon, and trickle harmlessly away.
Mark Stone would give Ottawa their first lead of the night on a relentless play at the side of the net, taking several whacks at the puck before finally squeezing it through Bob’s skate and the post, and Bobby Ryan would extend the Senators lead, locking things down hard on the Jackets for the final ten minutes of play.
Credit where credit is due: After drawing another penalty in the final three minutes, the Jackets would score thanks to Zach Werenski popping his 11th goal of the season (tying his mark from last season and leading all active NHL defensemen), but there was no tying goal tonight - no last minute heroics - no improbable chance to pull out the win in OT.
Just another blown lead, another sense of letting a game slip away, another sign that things aren’t where they need to be.
The engine is still missing parts - and it’s blowing up at the worst possible times.
Guys like Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Alexander Wennberg, and Ryan Murray aren’t going to be back for some time, and none of them are easily replaced. But Torts and Jarmo need to put their heads together and do some tinkering, because it’s clear this team is going to need some help to run well without them.