Todd Richards was visibly displeased with the performance of his team tonight, and he wanted no part of the travel delay or back-to-back nights as an excuse.
He expected -- and his players did, too -- a better effort coming to St. Paul to take on a Wild team that had been slumping lately. There was an opening and opportunity for the Blue Jackets to build on the good things they did Monday night against Dallas and further establish consistency in their style of play.
But as Richards said after the game, he thought his team only put in a half-night's work.
Their first 10 minutes and final 20 were exactly what they were looking for, but unfortunately, the meat of tonight's game was their undoing. Mikko Koivu opened the scoring on a fluky goal midway through the first period, Tom Gilbert scored on a Blue Jackets defensive zone breakdown, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard netted the winner on another broken play.
Did they play well enough to win? At times, certainly, but their lapses were glaring and if not for Mason it could have been far worse than a one-goal game.
The NHL's youngest team entering the game, the Blue Jackets could be on the verge of getting younger. Adrian Aucoin and Nikita Nikitin both suffered injuries in Minnesota and will be evaluated once the team gets back to Columbus, Richards said. The nature of their injuries is unknown but recalls from Springfield may be on the way.
Before we call it a night, here's my breakdown of the game:
1. 30 ain't 60: Brandon Dubinsky talked the other day about the difficulty of achieving the cliche "60 minute effort" that virtually all NHL players and coaches talk about. Consistency is always an issue for teams and it's compounded by a shortened season, but teams cannot let that become an excuse. The Blue Jackets weren't good enough for long enough in this game, plain and simple, and they've seen the results when they start the game "on time" and stick to their game plan. With another strong opponent coming to town on Thursday (St. Louis), the Blue Jackets have a day to recover and rebound with a better all-around effort.
2. Mason sharp again: The Blue Jackets goaltender only made 23 saves in the game but several of them were momentum-shifters. A wrap-around save on Parise was a big boost to Columbus, as was a great post-to-post pad stop on Devin Setoguchi's shorthanded chance. Mason's last two outings -- against Chicago on Saturday and tonight -- have been two of his stronger starts in quite some time. He's not getting much scoring support, but the same can be said for his counterpart, Sergei Bobrovsky. At the very least, the Blue Jackets know that they have two goalies playing solid hockey for them...now they have to work on the scoring part.
3. Checking game is there: Minnesota's top line came into the game on fire, and was essentially the team's only source of offense so far this season. If the Blue Jackets could slow down the Parise-Koivu-Heatley line, they had a pretty good chance to win the game. Sure enough, their puck pressure was good and caused the Wild to turn the puck over a lot, especially in the offensive zone. The Wild's two first-period goals came on coverage breakdowns and not skill plays off the rush, which is something Richards wanted the Blue Jackets to cut down on. The goaltending has been strong, but equally impressive has been the team's ability to not let games get out of hand by committing mistakes with their puck management.