The Winnipeg Jets played a simple, straightforward road game tonight in Nationwide Arena, and the Blue Jackets simply weren’t able to counter it.
One night after playing a hard, fast road game of their own, the Blue Jackets looked a step behind and their offensive struggles continued. They managed a single goal against Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec, who wasn’t tested often enough in a 3-2 Winnipeg victory on Halloween night.
Columbus fired 21 shots on goal but only seven in the third period when trailing by two goals, making a steep hill to climb look even taller.
Scott Hartnell scored his fourth goal of the season with 1:14 left in regulation, but the Jets were able to hang on and start their road trip with a win.
“I thought it was a struggle for us all night long, in all facets. Let’s be honest,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said.
After a decent start to the game over the first few shifts, the Blue Jackets allowed the opening goal. Blake Wheeler found a streaking Bryan Little through the neutral zone, and Little uncorked a high, hard slap shot that beat Sergei Bobrovsky to the long side at 5:52.
Less than a minute later (53 seconds, to be exact), Jets defenseman Tyler Myers fired a puck off the end boards in the Columbus zone, and it sprung free to rookie Andrew Copp at the side of the net. Copp collected the puck and scored his first NHL goal to give Winnipeg a 2-0 lead only 6:45 into the game.
The Blue Jackets got one back later in the period just as their power play expired. Brandon Dubinsky patiently waited and fed Brandon Saad at the back post, a tap-in goal (Saad’s fourth of the season) to bring it within 2-1 at 10:32.
Winnipeg needed 46 seconds of a Matt Calvert boarding penalty to regain a two-goal lead; Little found Wheeler this time in the left circle, and Wheeler beat Bobrovsky low the glove side with 3:01 left in the opening period.
The final line for Bobrovsky was three goals on 11 shots, and he was lifted in favor of Curtis McElhinney to begin the second period.
There was frustration – plenty of it – on the Blue Jackets side, but Tortorella isn’t looking for excuses or an easy way out of this. First, he knows it starts in the room with a capable group of players who are underperforming right now. Their good feelings haven’t lasted long enough, and that comes down to making simple plays that lead to chances and goals, restoring confidence and building from there.
A key moment in the game was a four-minute power play gone by the wayside in the third period. Trailing by two with 9:50 to go, there was ample time and opportunity for the Blue Jackets to get back in it – but the power play couldn’t even get established in the offensive zone.
“That’s the way it’s going right now. You get that four minutes and you hope to get a sniff there, but we didn’t even get a chance to set it up," Tortorella said. "It’s a combination of a lot of things, but it’s a group that hasn’t settled with themselves and we don’t feel good about making plays.
“I’ve seen it before. It happens. Everything’s magnified with the club because of the hole we’re in.”