Todd Richards had this to say after tonight's game, and it resonated: "When you're a team that's fighting and clawing to score goals, these little mistakes will cost you."
Right now, that's the fine line the Blue Jackets are walking. They're battling injuries (again) and, despite getting healthy on the blue line, have a big hole at center ice with their two most dependable centers out of the lineup. Already a team that would have to score by committee and battle for its every bounce or good break, their margin for error was minimal tonight and two mistakes loomed large.
A first-period turnover in the offensive zone allowed the Ducks to head the other way and get a clean breakaway on Sergei Bobrovsky that was cashed in by Peter Holland, who had been in the penalty box seconds earlier. Another giveaway in the defensive zone led to Ryan Getzlaf's go-ahead goal 21 seconds later, and those two quick tallies were indicative of how crucial puck management would be against a team like Anaheim that had been firing on all cylinders.
But perhaps the Blue Jackets' biggest frustration tonight was that they gave themselves a chance to beat a good Ducks hockey club that seemed confused at times by Columbus' forecheck and tireless puck pursuit. They outplayed the Ducks in the opening period but gave them two grade-A looks that were deposited into the back of the net.
On the surface -- result aside -- it was a good road game, but as James Wisniewski said post-game: "I'm sick of trying to look at it like a silver lining in the clouds. We lost." The Blue Jackets have been knocking on the door on a regular basis, but now, they need to find ways to break the door down and pick up two points.
Here are some of my thoughts on tonight's game:
1. Jay and Stellar Bob: Bobrovsky and counterpart Steve Mason haven't received a lot of run support from the Blue Jackets' offense this season, but they've done their part to keep the team in games. Bobrovsky was fantastic tonight and made a handful of top-end saves -- the most memorable coming on Kyle Palmieri in the first period. He was poised and confident between the pipes tonight and gave the Blue Jackets a chance to win the game, which is all you can ask from your starting netminder.
2. Power play looks sharp: You could tell right away how much of a difference Wisniewski makes on the point. He's got so much confidence with the puck and isn't afraid to walk the blue line and open up shooting lanes, and when he leans into the one-timer, it's a hard and heavy shot that backs up the penalty killers. The power play didn't score tonight, but there was a lot to like about the constant movement and rotation in the zone. If that becomes a constant, the production will come before too long.
3. Need the put-away goal: Richards pointed out after the game how much different things could have been if the Blue Jackets got a second goal in the first period, and it was a distinct possibility given how well they played in the game's first 15 minutes. The Blue Jackets have had a hard time creating separation in games and when we talk about the margin for error, it's a big factor in making it smaller. It's going to be a collective effort, but they've proven in games against San Jose and Detroit that the "put away" ability is there.