The Blue Jackets' two-game tour through the best the Metropolitan Division has to offer ended with a pair of shutouts.
First, Columbus blanked Washington on Tuesday night in what might have been the Blue Jackets' best performance of the season.
Thursday night was much more frustrating for the home team. The Blue Jackets fell into a hole against the stingy New York Islanders and couldn't get out of it, suffering a 3-0 loss that ended a four-game winning streak.
Three thoughts about the game follow.
Video: Torts gives credit to the Islanders
Playoff Hockey: The Islanders provided in some ways a postseason-style test: They're a team that defends as its identity -- the Isles entered atop the NHL in team defense, allowing just 2.36 goals per game -- and doesn't give up much. If there's any doubt about whether that will work in the postseason, the team's head coach has a Stanley Cup ring he can show you.
So nothing was going to be easy, but the Jackets had to keep pace with the Islanders. Instead, the game unfolded in a way that allowed New York to put a boa constrictor-type hold on it. First, there was Casey Cizikas' breakaway goal in the first, then another one-on-one tally by Cizikas in the second. By the third goal late in the second period, Columbus was in a hole that felt impossible to get out of.
They were simple breakdowns by the Blue Jackets and a little luck for the Islanders. On the first goal, Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois came in after a turnover and had a scoring chance, and Scott Harrington steamed in from the blue line to follow. But goalie Thomas Greiss poke-checked the puck away, and a headman pass found Cizikas behind Cam Atkinson and Markus Nutivaara.
On the second goal, Nick Foligno and Seth Jones tried to work a similar kind of give-and-go to the one that netted the captain a goal against Washington, but Foligno's pass was blocked and the Isles quickly found Cizikas -- just coming off the bench -- for the breakaway goal.
"Sometimes when you're late backchecking, it's a good thing," Jones said. "It just turns out he was back there."
But credit must go to Cizikas. He was able to finish his breakaway chances, while Columbus had a number of good looks through the first two periods that were turned aside by Thomas Greiss.
"I thought the key to the game, especially early on, I thought both teams played in spurts, they scored when they had chances, we had some chances and we didn't score," head coach John Tortorella said.
Battling Back: And if there's any team you don't want to fall into a 2-0 hole against right now, it's the Islanders. The team, which had the most porous defense in the NHL last year, has bought into first-year head coach Barry Trotz's dedication to defending.
From clogging the neutral zone to funneling toward the net to block shots and clear rebounds -- not to mention take away passing lanes -- the Islanders are at home defending. For the Jackets, trying to break through was almost like quicksand. The harder the team fought, the deeper the hole got.
"Them getting the second goal, you could start seeing them clamp down," Tortorella said. "Then when they score the third goal, they are just holding the neutral zone and they're trying to defend. So give them credit. Were we dead on? No, but we needed to score a goal (before it got 2-0)."
And as Tortorella alluded to, it got worse when a pinging puck ended up on the stick of Josh Bailey, and the Islanders forward made it 3-0 in the final minute of the second period.
Patience was a key word going in -- given the way the Islanders defend, the Blue Jackets would have to have it. But once in a big hole, that plan kind of went out the window.
"They lock it up in the neutral zone," Jones said. "We knew that going in. I think for a lot of minutes, we kind of played into their hands and tried to get too cute there instead of putting it behind them and trying to go forward and work down low where we're successful. We did that to ourselves a little bit."
Moving On: Jones alluded to a few ways the Blue Jackets could have been more successful in the attack against the Islanders, and those keys will be important when the teams face off twice in March and the Blue Jackets have a chance to earn four points back.
Both Tortorella and Josh Anderson had answers when asked how the Jackets can be better next time around - and win defensive showdowns of this ilk in the future.
"I think we have to be careful with our dumps," Anderson said. "We had too many rims earlier, going right to the goalie and easy breakouts. I thought their wingers did a pretty good job of holding our wingers up that were trying to get speed to go into their D. I think smarter dumps and try to capitalize on our chances. They did a good job blocking shots and everything like that, and obviously their goalie did a really good job."
"You just keep working at it," Tortorella said. "The (scoring) chances are going to be pretty even. But to try to get through it, it's a game of patience. Hopefully you'll get some shots early; I think they blocked 23 shots. You're trying to change angles on shots, you're trying to dump the puck into areas where you can get a forecheck going. At times I thought we did, at times I thought we didn't."