February was a month the Phoenix Coyotes will remember for a long time. So far, March is one they'd like to forget.
The Coyotes, an NHL-best 11-0-1 last month, dropped to 0-4-0 in March by losing 3-2 to the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Tuesday night. Newcomer Jack Johnson had a goal and an assist as the Jackets won their season-high third in a row. Steve Mason won his third straight by stopping 38 shots; he's allowed just four goals in beating Phoenix twice and Colorado once.
Phoenix, which has been outscored 14-7 during its slide, started the night seventh in the West with 75 points. The Coyotes' longest losing streak of the season has dropped them out of the lead in the Pacific Division.
"Obviously things are not going our way right now," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We have to get back at it and find a way to get a win."
The Blue Jackets have lost a League-high six games in regulation after taking a lead into the third period, but Mason stopped all 13 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He made big saves on Shane Doan and Ray Whitney early in the period, got his glove on a shorthanded blast by Oliver Ekman-Larsson with 7:35 to play and was stunned by Radim Vrbata's chest-high shot in the final seconds but defenseman James Wisniewski cleared the puck out of the crease.
Columbus interim coach Todd Richards said the team has relaxed following last Monday's trade deadline.
"I had talked to you leading up to the trade deadline, and was asked, 'Is the room tense?' My response was, 'Everything's good.' But seeing the way we're playing now, I think that had a big effect on us," he said. "Guys seem more relaxed, seem to be enjoying the game, enjoying being around each other. So the morale is good."
The fact that Mason is playing his best hockey of the season has made a big difference. He beat the Coyotes for the second time in four days after blanking the Avalanche in Colorado.
"I'm feeling really good," Mason said. "I'm treating it as a fresh start. The guys are working really hard. The games right now are becoming fun to play in. The guys are playing competitively. You can see it's just a lot more fun atmosphere."
The Blue Jackets led 2-0 less than four minutes into the game, as Johnson set up a goal by R.J. Umberger 31 seconds after the opening faceoff and scored at 3:54 -- his first since coming to Columbus on Feb. 23 in the Jeff Carter trade. Umberger dropped a high pass onto his stick, beat defenseman Michal Rozsival and fired high past Mike Smith's stick.
Johnson made it 2-0 by beating Smith to the glove side from well inside the left circle after a slick cross-ice pass from Vinny Prospal.
"Vinny made a great pass to me," said Johnson, who became the 30th Columbus player to score a goal this season. "I had plenty of time to walk into it."
The Coyotes have trailed at least 2-0 in all four losses this month.
"The last three or four games it's been awful," Doan said of his team's poor starts. "That's gone on before but we managed ways to overcome it. The last three, four games, it's been dreadful."
Tippett changed goalies after Johnson's goal, replacing Smith with Jason LaBarbera, and the change appeared to inspire the Coyotes. Antoine Vermette, acquired by Phoenix from Columbus on Feb. 22, got his first goal with his new team by finishing off a 2-on-1 break with Whitney at 11:57.
The Blue Jackets regained their two-goal lead when Derek MacKenzie beat LaBarbera with a bad-angled wrister 3:02 into the second period.
Tippett protested that Dorsett had interfered with LaBarbera, but the goal stood.
"It's just a poor call. It's unfortunate that goal ends up being the winning goal, but ultimately it's our start that doomed us," Tippett said. "It's a blatant goalie interference -- but that being said, we can't go down 2-0 early in games and be expecting to come back."
Phoenix closed the gap to one goal on a rocket from the top of the left circle by defenseman Keith Yandle, who fired just past Mason's glove and inside the far post at 16:26.
"The start of the game is what cost us," Doan said. "That's on us."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report.
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