Game 14 Recap: Still Digging
After an encouraging, if not ideal, result in Carolina, the Jackets looked to finally get a win as they returned home to face Tampa Bay.They're still looking.
I have to admit, part of me just wanted to write "Touchdown Buccaneers" and leave it at that.
The Blue Jackets did a lot of things better in their OT loss to Carolina on Friday, and many fans hoped that might translate into a win, finally, when they faced Tampa Bay - particularly when the news came out that the Lightning would start Evgeni Nabokov in net, rather than Ben Bishop.
This morning, the team held a semi-public pre-game skate, where season ticket holders were invited to watch, then attend a Q&A with head coach Todd RIchards.
The coach repeatedly stated that injuries were no excuse, and that the players who were on the ice had to play a certain way no matter who is or is not healthy.
Perhaps the rest of the team should have listened in, because there wasn't much of that in evidence for the first period.
I'm not going to break down every goal Anton Forsberg allowed, because there are certain limits for your sanity, but I will note that players watching the puck or leaving their defensive assignments unattended was a rather common theme, and after four goals on 15 shots, while his own club had only generated a paltry four shots on goal in that time, I don't blame Richards for making a goalie change.
I do feel terrible for Forsberg, who was hung out to dry by his defense. But the fact remains that when the second period began, this team was down 4-0.
Remarkably, they actually started to play at that point.
Scott Hartnell got his third goal in two nights by redirecting a Wisniewski point shot early in the middle frame (on the power play, no less!), and even though Ryan Callahan broke the seal on Curtis McElhinney not long after, Hartnell would answer the bell again for his second of the night, this time taking a behind the net feed from Nick Foligno and firing it into the open net before Nabokov could come over to seal it off.
Unfortunately, the brief rally stalled again when Dalton Prout was called for a slash a minute later, and Tyler Johnson converted on the man advantage to restore the four goal lead going into the third period.
The top line tried like hell to push Columbus back into it, opening the final period in regulation with a beauty of a give-and-go rush between Brian Gibbons and Ryan Johansen that ended with a shot dribbling through Nabokov's five hole and into the net.
Then, Nick Foligno would draw a tripping call against former Blue Jacket Anton Stralman, and finished a tic-tac-toe sequence from Erixon and Wiz on the power play much like Hartnell did, getting the rebound from Wisniewski's attack and tapping it home.
Even though they (incredibly!) closed the gap to a two goal deficit, the Jackets couldn't find a way to bring it home, though it would be their turn to hammer the opposing goaltender, outshooting the Lightning 17-5 in the third.
With time winding down, Columbus emptied their net in that oh-so-familiar last gasp of desperation, but it ended the way you might expect an empty net against one of (if not the) best offenses in the NHL this season to go. Tyler Johnson would have his second of the game, the Bucs made their point after attempt, and yet another loss goes into the books.
Final Score - Lighting 7, Blue Jackets 4
I don't even know how to highlight performers here, or how to call out those below their potential. When you spot the other guys four goals before you even seem to show up, I'm not sure anyone deserves to be praised, though I do respect what Hartnell, Johansen, Wiz, and Foligno did today. (In fact. I'm willing to say that Wiz was probably our best D-man tonight, with Erixon finally finding his feet a bit as his partner.) But...does it matter, at this point?
I have no idea what it is in this team's dharma that they follow successful seasons with a unbelievable collapse, but we seem to be well on our way, again. We thought that the game against Carolina on Tuesday was rock bottom. It seems the club still feels they have more room to dig.
Lots of guys on this team have been talking the talk. I see them on my TV all the time. We hear them in the press conferences, they give the properly chastened or stoic quotes to the media after practices.
But this weekend - heck, this entire week - continues to show that there's a difference between talking the talk, and walking the walk.
We're still waiting for this team to live up to their sound bytes.