WASHINGTON, D.C. - They're outshooting their opponents, keeping the puck in the offensive zone and doing a lot of things that usually lead to the Blue Jackets winning games.
What they're not doing, however, is turning all that positive play into victories. After losing, 4-2, to the Washington Capitals on Friday night at Capital One Arena, Columbus is now winless in its past five games (0-4-1), including the past four in regulation.
They outshot the Capitals 37-17, after outshooting them 39-25 in Washington's 3-2 win Tuesday at Nationwide Arena, and have topped their past three opponents in shots by combined a 125-105 margin.
"We've had 20-plus scoring chances the last two games … really the last three games," coach John Tortorella said. "We just have to finish. You can't put it all to bad luck. You can whine about luck and puck luck. We've got to force it to go our way. I think we're on the right road. We've just got to keep our wits about ourselves and keep banging away here."
They'll get another chance to do that Saturday, when they host the New Jersey Devils in the finale of a back-to-back at Nationwide Arena. Until then, there's another 24-hour period to digest the most recent loss that could've been a win.
"There's no sense in getting frustrated," Tortorella said. "We've just got to work through it and just get ready for our next game. We had a number of chances. We just don't score at key times, but we certainly had some opportunities to do that."
The Blue Jackets got goals from rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin, each to overcome a one-goal deficit, but once again the scoring stopped at two. In their past 15 games, the Blue Jackets have only scored more than two goals in regulation twice - and those were two were losses to the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 23 and New York Islanders last Saturday.
Columbus hasn't held a two-goal lead since Dec. 29 in Ottawa, another defeat, and the low scoring is now magnifying defensive breakdowns that lead directly to goals. Overall]]], the possession time is there and there's still an upbeat attitude within the locker room.
"I think it's just because of the situation we're in," captain Nick Foligno said. "If there was so much to fix, I would be a lot more worried. But you can't tell me there's lots to fix, besides putting some pucks in the net. You can't really pick apart our game. We're doing a lot of good things, so I'm not going to focus on some of the bounces that aren't going our way. I'm going to focus on things we're doing well, because that's how you get out of it."
What's hurting them most is the absence of something the jackets had to start the season. Instead of finding ways to win, like they used to, they're now finding ways to lose.
"As of late, we've played some of our best hockey and haven't won, where in the past we've played OK hockey and found ways to win," said defenseman Zach Werenski, who had a brief injury scare, but finished the game. "It's kind of funny how things like that happen, but it's just finding ways to score and get on the scoresheet when we get our chances."
Here's what we learned:
I: WHAT IT MEANS
Losing in regulation kept the Blue Jackets at 58 points after 54 games, which dropped them out of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot.
Entering the game, Columbus held that position by way of tie-breaker over the New York Islanders (58 points) and by one point over the Carolina Hurricanes (57 points).
The Islanders defeated the Detroit Red Wings 7-6 in overtime at Little Caesar's Arena in Detroit, moving them past the Blue Jackets into the second wild card. The Hurricanes won 4-1 at home against the Vancouver Canucks, and also moved past Columbus in the standings with 60 points.
"We're playing Metro games coming up here, against teams we're fighting with," Werenski said. "It's kind of in our hands right now, which is the best way to have it. We've been playing good hockey. We're not getting results, but other teams aren't getting results either. We're in a good spot. It's going to be a tight playoff race. I'm looking forward to it. It should be fun.".
II: MOMENTUM KILLERS
After allowing the Capitals to take a 2-1 lead with two seconds left in the first period, the Blue Jackets got a big tying goal from Panarin 27 seconds into the second period.
Video: CBJ@WSH: Panarin redirects Jones' shot past Holtby
He tipped a long-range shot from Seth Jones past goalie Braden Holtby, which seemingly grabbed any momentum back from Washington after the late Columbus breakdown in the first.
"Those are things that happen to you when you're going through a stretch like this, but we bounced right back," Tortorella said. "To me, it's 2-2 after a period, after we score right away [in the second]. We did a lot of good things tonight."
The Jackets just weren't able to build on Panarin's goal, and the Capitals responded with back-to-back goals of their own in the second by Beagle at 4:38 and Eller at 6:06 to cap Washington's third power play of the game.
Just like that, the Capitals had a 4-2 lead and all the momentum back. Columbus spent the rest of the game trying to get those goals back.
Eller's goal also added to the ongoing frustrations of Blue Jackets penalty-killers, who've now allowed a power-play goal in seven straight games. They're 7 of 16 killing penalties in those games (43.8 percent).
III: CLOSE CALL
Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski left the game with 5:11 left in the second period, but returned for the start of the third.
Werenski gave T.J. Oshie a push near the boards, and Oshie's skate came up as he struggled to keep his balance. Werenski was kicked between the legs by the back of Oshie's skate, which sent him to a knee immediately.
He struggled to get off the ice and needed help getting back to the locker room. He emerged from the locker room for the start of the third and finished the game.
"I'm not going to go into details on it, but it wasn't fun by any means," Werenski said. "I thought maybe it was worse than it was, a little bit, but I had an idea [of what it was]. Nothing was cut. I just pushed him and his leg came up. Bad luck on my part. I was just trying to make a hard play, and wind up on the receiving end of it."
IV: GOAL FOR DAD
The Blue Jackets' fathers' trip weekend got off to a memorable start for the Dubois men: rookie center Pierre-Luc and his dad, Eric.
Eric Dubois is an assistant coach with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, which is the AHL affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg allowed him to miss a couple games to join the Jackets' trip, and his son rewarded him for it with a goal in the first period.
Video: CBJ@WSH: Dubois buries wrister after fortunate bounce
After enjoying a team dinner together and touring Washington D.C. monuments on Thursday, the younger Dubois scored early in the game Friday. After Washington took a 1-0 lead on a goal by John Carlson at 5:09 of the first, Dubois tied it at 6:28 with his 11th goal of the season and first since Jan. 9 in Toronto (nine games).
The puck took an odd bounce off the end boards behind the Capitals' net, sending it out to the low slot for Dubois to whack with a low slap shot that beat goalie Braden Holtby.
V: CALVERT, JENNER FLIP-FLOP
Following practice Thursday, Tortorella hinted that he might make a switch at left wing on the third line. A day later, he followed through by moving Matt Calvert up to Boone Jenner's spot at left wing on that unit, which is centered by Brandon Dubinsky and has Josh Anderson at right wing.
Jenner skated in Calvert's former spot on the fourth line, where Tortorella wants him to continue working on the pace of his game. He's seeking the same from Jenner's former line, which often gets matched up against the opponent's top line.
"That line should be more involved, as far as being involved in the forecheck and making something happen around the net," Tortorella said. "It just has not been consistent, no matter where I put [Jenner] in the lineup. I'm not trying to run him down, because I know he's trying, but I have 'Calvy' on the fourth line last game, and I've got to make decisions."
Tuesday at Nationwide Arena, the Jackets used their third line most often against Washington's top group of forwards, which is headlined by Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom - who scored the game-winning goal with 43 seconds left in the third period of that game.
That was the matchup to start out again Friday, only with Calvert joining the mix.
VI: BJORKY TAKES THE BODY
Columbus had ramped up its physical play the previous two games, finishing more checks, and came out of the gate looking to take the body even more Friday.
That wasn't all that surprising.
The guy leading the charge was a little surprising, especially in the first period. It was forward Oliver Bjorkstrand, who's listed at 6-foot and just 177 pounds. Bjorkstrand had two big hits in the first period, and both were delivered to the Capitals' top two centers low in the offensive zone.
The first was against Backstrom at 8:47, banging him into the end boards. The second one happened with 2:14 left, when Bjorkstrand stapled Evgeny Kuznetsov into the end boards and wound up drawing an interference penalty in retaliation.