The losses are starting to pile up for the Blue Jackets, who haven't won in four straight games after falling 3-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night at Nationwide Arena.
The most pressing concern isn't really the missed opportunities to stack up points in the Metropolitan Division, though. That could matter more later on, if this stretch is viewed with 20/20 hindsight as more than just a rough patch.
What's most at stake now is the "how" part, as in how these losses keep happening. There are similarities in these defeats that have become full-on trends, and the Jackets are keenly aware of them.
"They were skating, they were winning battles, they were winning more battles than we were … I feel like I'm a broken record," said Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky, whose second goal of the season was the only goal Columbus got past Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (25 saves). "I feel like I'm saying that too much lately, which is not who are, and not who we need to be."
The Blue Jackets' most nagging issues are slow starts, missed scoring chances,and ineffective power plays. They overcame some of those issues early on, but those victories masked some flaws.
The Jackets found ways to win those games, and they need to fine that resourcefulness again. This game was yet another opportunity, with Columbus and Carolina tied 1-1 starting the third period.
Columbus was strong in the third, did a lot of things right and got back to their bread-and-butter of chipping pucks deep into the opponents' zone. They just couldn't get the tying goal.
"It took half a game to get ourselves going, but then we slowly got going," coach John Tortorella said. "It's hard to win when you're not playing a full 60 [minutes]. I thought it set up for us nice tonight. You may think I'm crazy, but to go into a third period 1-1, and not playing a really good game to that point, try to find a way to win a hockey game. Wipe it clean and win that period. I thought we played well enough in that third period, but we just didn't capitalize."
Cam Atkinson had two great scoring chances in the third, including a breakaway, but the other Cam (Ward) stopped both. Atkinson also had an open snap shot from the slot at 11:45, which Ward saved. Dubinsky had a great chance off the rebound of that one, and Ward stopped him too.
Afterward, Dubinsky went philosophical.
"We've just got to take a long look in the mirror at what type of team we are, and how we're successful, and how we're built," he said. "It's not by trying to be fancy and making plays, and trying to be run-and-gun. It's about getting pucks beneath the other team's hash marks and winning battles. We're not doing enough of that right now, and the results are speaking for themselves."
The Jackets are a young team, with a lot of speed. They're a talented team too, full of players with a high skill level. They're just not, as Dubinsky pointed out, sure of what they are as a team yet. They've seen flashes of what they'd like to become, but games like this are reminders that the answer is still in the future somewhere, waiting to be discovered.
"[Ward] made some big saves in the third there, one on me, and one on Cam, but just all the way through, start to finish, we've just got to get back to who we are and what makes us successful," Dubinsky said. "I don't think that was an indicator of who we are tonight, so we've got to rectify that immediately."
They've said that for a couple games now, as the broken record Dubinsky mentioned keeps looping along on the same scratchy tracks.
There was another slow start to overcome Friday, despite Tyler Motte and Dubinsky teaming up to give the Blue Jackets an early 1-0 lead in the first. That goal, scored by Dubinsky after getting a great stretch pass from Motte, turned out to be the only one Columbus scored.
The rest of the game was filled with near-misses, not to mention two more power plays that went by without the Jackets scoring a goal.
Still, it was 1-1 starting the third and Columbus came into it feeling good. There was a chance to win within sight, but the Hurricanes got there first, capitalizing on a turnover in the Blue Jackets' zone on Jordan Staal's second goal of the game.
"We weren't good, but I thought our game started coming in the middle of the second, and the third was our best," Tortorella said. "It's just trying to find a way to win a game. We hold them to one scoring chance [in the third]. It's their goal. We have four or five really good opportunities in that third period, with the right people [having] the puck on their sticks, and we don't get it done."
News & Notes
HOMECOMING FOR MICHIGANDERS: Playing against the Red Wings always holds special meaning to three Blue Jackets who are from the mitten state: Jack Johnson, Zach Werenski and Tyler Motte.
All three played in Michigan youth programs and then the University of Michigan, which meant they'd each played at Joe Louis Arena prior to becoming NHL players. Johnson and Werenski were able to play at Joe Louis in the NHL, but Motte wasn't.
"They had quite a few good years there, when I was growing up," he said. "It's nice to have success like that, and I'm looking forward to getting back there for the first time in Detroit as a pro."
All three are looking forward to seeing what the Red Wings' new home looks like.
"I grew up going to Red Wings games," said Johnson, who lived in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "'The Joe,' even though they were in need of a change and an update, it was the building I always went to as a kid. So, I always had a soft spot in my heart walking in there, even though it smelled like stale beer and peanuts. But I'm excited to see this one, too, like anybody else."
Werenski is too.
"I was a huge Red Wings fan, growing up watching them as a young guy watching them make the playoffs every year," he said. "It was pretty cool to be in the city for that, and [experience] a couple of Stanley Cups. I've heard what they've done with the new place is unbelievable, so I'm excited to get there and see it. It's exciting for the city, what they're doing there."
OTHER NOTES: The Blue Jackets went 0-for-2 on the power play, which extended their goal-less drought to four games (0-for-11). … Columbus was outshot 29-26, which was the first time that's happened this season at Nationwide Arena. … The Blue Jackets killed off Carolina's one power play, which made them 23-of-25 (92%) killing penalties on home ice. … Dubinsky led all Columbus skaters with 22:20 of ice time, and has four points (two goals, two assists) in his past five games. … Sonny Milano was a healthy scratch for the second time this season. ... Markus Hannikainen has four points (two goals, two assists) in his past four games.
(All times ET)
Hurricanes: Host the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday (7 p.m., FS-CR, WGN, NHL.TV)
Blue Jackets: At the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday (7 p.m., TV: FS-O, Fox Sports Go; Radio: CD102.5 FM, BlueJackets.com)