WASHINGTON — Pascal Vincent is tired of watching his Blue Jackets find ways to lose close games.
After it happened again in a 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday night at Capital One Arena, his frustrations finally boiled over. Despite Johnny Gaudreau scoring the game’s first goal in his 700th NHL appearance and Boone Jenner assisting on it in his 675th game as a Blue Jacket ― most in franchise history ― the result was an eighth straight winless game.
“It’s getting old, you know?” Vincent said. “Like, it’s getting old. We shoot ourselves in the foot. We do so many good things, and I’m repeating myself. Just play the same tape as the last game. We do a lot of good things, where we’re playing the right way. Yeah, we make mistakes, like the other team makes mistakes, as well, but then we make mistakes at the wrong time and it’s costing us games, costing us points. So, it’s getting old.”
Ivan Provorov scored earlier in the third to cut the Capitals’ lead to 3-2, but Hendrix Lapierre pushed it to 4-2 with a backhand to cap a breakaway. Sonny Milano, Aliaksei Protas and Alex Ovechkin scored the Capitals’ first three goals, all in the second period after Gaudreau scored.
Elvis Merzlikins (22 saves) started in net for the Blue Jackets (4-10-4) and took the loss. Charlie Lindgren made 32 saves in the win for the Capitals (9-4-2).
Here are five takeaways:
Columbus Blue Jackets tiring of ‘same old movie’
Losing streaks aren’t built the same, which the Blue Jackets have shown with this one. Rarely do teams play as many close games as they have without winning, but here we are.
These eight straight losses include an unsightly record of 1-5-2 that includes coughing up leads in the past seven consecutive games. They’re now one loss shy of tying the franchise record of nine straight, which the Jackets have reached four other times in their history, most recently in 2021.
Costly mistakes are the biggest issue, and it isn’t letting up.
This time, they got a 1-0 lead on Gaudreau’s second goal of the season and gave it up less than two minutes later. The Capitals turned it into a 3-1 lead in the remaining 16-plus minutes of that period and got the winner from Lapierre with 6:26 left in the third. Danforth cut it to 4-3 late, but the Blue Jackets couldn’t tie it despite getting a power play that included a partial 6-on-4 advantage after pulling Merzlikins.
That was almost a carbon copy to the finish of their 3-2 loss Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes.
“It looks like every game, the same old story,” Provorov said. “It’s like you’re rewatching the same movie over and over again. … it takes time to learn how to win. Right now, it feels like we’re almost there but not quite, and that ‘almost there’ is a big difference between winning games and losing games.”
Vincent’s building frustrations boiled over.
“It’s every game,” he said. “We’re right there. We could be four or five games above .500 right now. It’s getting ridiculous. Like, it’s just those little lapses and then the first thing you know, the puck is in the back of your net. We’re going to focus on the positive here, but it’s getting old. I’m repeating myself, but it’s getting pretty (expletive) old right now.”
The Blue Jackets’ next opportunity to end the streak is Sunday at the Philadelphia Flyers, who are coached by John Tortorella and won in Columbus in both teams’ season-opener.
Columbus Blue Jackets captain Boone Jenner is officially Mr. Blue Jacket’
Everything in the NHL moves fast, but time passes quickest.
The Blue Jackets’ latest example is captain Boone Jenner, who’s already playing his 11th NHL season and Saturday night passed Rick Nash for most games played for the franchise.
Jenner, who assisted on Gaudreau’s goal, logged his 675th career game for the Jackets, who drafted him with the seventh pick of the second round (37th overall) in the 2011 NHL draft. After making his NHL debut Oct. 4, 2010 at Nationwide Arena against the Calgary Flames, Jenner quickly became a lineup fixture who’s never left.
He’s ‘Mr. Blue Jacket’ now, his name topping one of the most prized statistical categories in the franchise’s 23-year history.
“It goes by quick,” Jenner said. “Here we are in my 11th year, but you think about all the past teammates that helped you in your early years and coaches and training staff that’s been here along the way, the whole way for me. It’s pretty cool to do it with them. Just to wear that Blue Jackets logo, it’s a special feeling and something I take a lot of pride in, and I never take it for granted.”
Throughout his career, three traits have stood out most. The first is his relentless work ethic, next is his versatility and the other is the example the captain sets for teammates of all experience levels. Those three things combined make him a coach’s dream player. ∕
Vincent is the sixth Blue Jackets coach to gain an appreciation of that firsthand.
“He plays the hard way (and) the right way,” Vincent said. “He practices the same. He’s a good teammate. He’s low maintenance. I really don’t need to speak to Boone Jenner. When I speak to Boone Jenner, most of the time it’s about his teammates and the team. He’s a great leader and he’s been doing it over time. … you just know, like a clock. He’s such a great man and it’s a great accomplishment.”
Johnny Gaudreau a bright spot in Columbus Blue Jackets’ loss
Each of the Jackets’ eight straight losses has contained a silver lining.
This one was Gaudreau, whose offensive struggles appeared to dissipate after scoring his goal. It put the Jackets up briefly, 1-0, in the second period and was his first this season against an opposing goalie. His first was scored into an empty net nine games earlier in their last victory prior to the skid.
Gaudreau was strong on the puck most of the night and looked like the guy the Jackets hoped to get in July 2022 when they signed the former Calgary Flames star to a seven-year deal. Gaudreau was relieved to play closer to his talent level, but knows what the Jackets have fallen into a deep pit.
“It was nice to score,” he said. “It gave us the lead, and then they took it right back real quick, and we were fighting again for most of the night down a few goals. It’s hard. Pretty much every one of our games is a one-goal game. We’ve got to figure it out, find a way really quickly to be the team that’s winning the one-goal games.”
Vincent wasn’t in the mood for bright spots but relented when asked about Gaudreau. That’s because the star left wing could become the Jackets’ biggest key to snapping the skid.
“I think he scores that goal because he’s playing the right way,” Vincent said. “He was moving his feet. He was winning those one-on-one battles. He’s the Johnny we know.”
Columbus Blue Jackets giving up too many leads
It’s getting to be like clockwork.
After scoring key goals, you can almost expect them to give them right back within the next couple minutes. It happened again in the second period against the Capitals, turning a 1-0 Columbus lead into a 3-1 deficit on goals by Milano, Protas and Ovechkin.
Gaudreu’s goal felt like a watershed moment for the struggling star, and it should’ve been one. Instead, the Capitals immediately turned up the heat and scored three goals before the horn sounded. It’s happened far too often. In fact, the blown lead was the Jackets’ 14th of the season, in just 18 games, and was their seventh straight game giving up a lead.
It’s become a major problem.
“I guess the long-term answer is learning how to play with a lead late in periods, up a goal, right time, right place to make a play,” Gaudreau said. “It all comes with learning. Hopefully we can learn quickly, because the season, it’s getting going here pretty quick.”
The Blue Jackets are last in the Metropolitan Division, last in the Eastern Conference and eight points back of the Carolina Hurricanes for the second wild card.
“Obviously, the guys going out there for the next shift (after a goal) are hungry to score a goal and hungry to go to work, so maybe it’s just bringing it up after a goal to get guys a bit more focused on (keeping the lead),” Danforth said. “Obviously guys aren’t going out there to get scored on. They’re going out to have momentum and a big shift.”
Columbus Blue Jackets’ decisions after Jack Roslovic’s injury interesting
Since forward Jack Roslovic headed to injured reserve with a fractured ankle, the Blue Jackets have made some interesting moves to fill that roster spot.
The first was recalling rookie defenseman David Jiricek from a one-game stint with the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League. That bumped the number of defensemen in Columbus to eight, making Andrew Peeke and Adam Boqvist the two extra defenders.
Recalling another defenseman over skilled forward Kent Johnson, the fifth overall pick of the 2021 draft, definitely raised eyebrows among Blue Jackets’ fans. The next curious move also involved Johnson staying in Cleveland.
Rather than bringing him back, the Jackets called up Trey Fix-Wolansky on Thursday after Emil Bemstrom cleared waivers. Bemstrom’s demotion wasn’t too surprising, but picking Fix-Wolansky over Johnson provided more fodder for fan complaints.
Fix-Wolansky got off to a great start in the AHL with 16 points in the Monsters’ first 11 games, so that would’ve made sense if not for Johnson staying put. Johnson, who had a goal, three assists and four points for the Monsters on Saturday night, spent the entirety of last season in the NHL and finished with 16-24-40 in 79 games.
He began this season in the NHL but was scratched for the season-opener and only played eight games before being assigned to Cleveland as a way to regain confidence. Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said Fix-Wolansky was chosen over Johnson because the team wants to avoid putting the latter on a shuttle between Columbus and Cleveland.
They want him to play a lot of minutes and gain confidence. After his huge game Saturday, Johnson now has 3-8-11 in six games while centering the Monsters’ top line.
The Jackets’ puzzling decisions, however, didn’t stop with Johnson.
Rather than getting a second straight NHL game, Fix-Wolansky was against the Capitals after play Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He sat in favor of Mathieu Olivier, whose size, muscle and toughness likely got him back into the lineup as a protective measure against Capitals forward Tom Wilson.