The Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens couldn't have started out the 2015-16 season any differently. But, with more than a quarter of the campaign completed, tonight’s game marked the first match-up for these two teams and it proved to be a good test for Columbus.
Yet the test yielded a disappointing result for the Jackets. Despite the Canadiens opening the scoring less than three minutes into the game, the visitors hung on and captain Nick Foligno tied the game at 17:23 of the first.
Trying to avoid the breakdowns that have plagued them in previous games, the Blue Jackets seemed determined to break the tie in the third.
But an unfortunate penalty called on Scott Hartnell for tripping P.K. Subban put the Canadiens on the power play with 2:34 left in regulation of a 1-1 tie. Twenty-five seconds later, Max Pacioretty put the game-winning goal behind Sergei Bobrovsky, giving Montreal a 2-1 win and handing the Jackets another frustrating finish.
“It’s sloppiness with the penalty," head coach John Tortorella said. "Just total sloppiness and it cost us. We played well enough to win and we found a way to lose. They didn’t beat us. We beat ourselves. We played well against one of the top teams in the league, but we found a way to beat ourselves.”
The game kicked off quickly when Paul Byron beat Kevin Connauton to the net after receiving a near perfect pass from Christian Thomas, making it 1-0 for Montreal just 2:51 in the first period. And, less than a minute later, the Jackets found themselves on the penalty kill when David Savard went to the box for slashing Pacioretty.
Despite much of the play being in the Jackets’ zone, Columbus had some chances in the first.
Tortorella has implored his team to be better in the face-off circles in order to win hockey games, and it was a noticeably improved area tonight (59 percent). One of the biggest wins came from No. 1 center Ryan Johansen.
Johansen won a key draw in Canadiens territory and Foligno beat goaltender Mike Condon with a wraparound goal late in the first to tie the game. The goal marked Foligno’s first goal in 21 games and was obviously a huge relief for the captain.
“We were playing a real solid road game," Foligno said. "It wasn’t our best game, but we were sticking with it. We were doing a lot of good things, actually, a lot of scoring chances. They came down, they’re a good team, too, they’re gonna have their scoring chances but we didn’t really break. We bent a little bit, but it’s just hard to battle back.”
With the energy starting to shift in favor of the Jackets, the game halted momentarily when Alexei Emelin blindsided Matt Calvert, who took a hit to the head and went down on all fours. Emelin was handed a five-minute major and a game misconduct, but the Blue Jackets could not capitalize on the extended power play.
“We absolutely have to get points out of every game right now," Foligno said. "It’s disappointing. We battled so hard. It was a bad penalty, and they’re really potent on the power play. It’s disappointing because that’s a game you can into overtime and then anything can happen against a good team like that on the road. We've gotta find a way to get a point.”