Getty Images

NHL Awards: PHT hands out some midseason hardware

9 Comments

Almost every team has hit the 41-game mark of the season, which means it’s time to look back at the first half and hand out some hardware. There’s plenty of change since we did our quarter-point awards post and these will most certainly change by the end of the regular season.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at who we think is deserving of the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Adams, Calder and Selke Trophies, along with some first-half surprises and disappointments.

SEAN LEAHY

HART TROPHY
1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

No player has more points since Nov. 1 than MacKinnon. He’s taken his game to another level and is a big reason why the Avalanche are threatening for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. While Nikita Kucherov was the MVP favorite early on, MacKinnon’s play, the goaltending of Vasilevskiy has caused the Lightning forward to be leap-frogged. You also can’t forget the scoring exploits of Steven Stamkos, who could draw some votes away from Kucherov.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators / John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

Doughty has the points (7 goals, 30 points), the ice time (27:10), the possession stats (53.4 Corsi, 6.38 Corsi-relative) to make his case for another one of these. Hedman is right there behind him and a strong second half could see the tide move his way. Just waiting on the outside is Karlsson, who should put up a strong argument after a “weird” first half, and Klingberg, who’s made big strides this season and leads all defensemen in scoring (6-33—39). He’s also plus-118 in shot attempts, which is a monster upgrade from his negative-25 last season.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Hopefully Crawford comes back soon from his upper-body injury because he was having a wonderful. Vasilevskiy has not only been the Lightning MVP, he’s also been the best netminder in the league. He leads the NHL in shutouts (6) and even strength save percentage (.941).

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. John Hynes, New Jersey Devils

Whoever ends up being a finalist with Gallant for the Adams should just skip the awards show and hit up a craps table because we all know who’s going to win this.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins
3. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders

Remember the days when Clayton Keller was the big-time favorite? He’s slowed down a bit with only three goals since Nov. 6. During that time Boeser and Barzal have been on scoring tears, while McAvoy continues to be a rock on the Boston blue line averaging 22:53 a night alongside Zdeno Chara

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

This is going to be Bergeron’s award to lose every season until he retires or his game finally falls off a cliff. This season he’ll have some very stiff competition from Couturier and Kopitar, who is having a fantastic bounce-back season. Bergeron is once again a possession monster (58.28 Corsi, 7.39 Corsi-relative) while continuing to produce (16 goals, 32 points). Couturier has the possession numbers (54.25 Corsi, 1.28 Corsi-relative) and has already set career highs in goals (23) and points (42)

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights
Biggest Surprise (Player): William Karlsson
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Edmonton Oilers
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Scott Darling

Second half storyline to watch: Can the surprise teams — Vegas, New Jersey, Winnipeg — maintain their success to earn playoff berths?

Getty Images

SCOTT BILLECK

HART TROPHY
1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

Stamkos has been splendid in his return to form. Kucherov is simply the best goal scorer in the NHL and Wheeler might be the most important player to any team in the NHL with his versatility and his point production.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

Hedman’s the best defenseman in the NHL thus far this season, and it’s a runaway at this point. Doughty would probably be leading this in any other year. Karlsson is still Karlsson, and that’s had Norris written all over it before.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

Vasilevskiy has been sensational, and while Bob has done Bob things all season, he’s just not there this year. Hellebuyck deserves recognition as one of top goalies, especially if you compare him to himself last year.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets

What Gallant has gotten out of his troops in Vegas is outstanding, and barring a complete flop, he’s the clear-cut winner here. Cooper leads the best team in the NHL, but also has some remarkable talent (likely four all-stars). Maurice has turned an underachieving Jets team into one of the best in the west.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
3. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes

Boeser and Barzal are going to go back and forth for the title until the end of the season. This is really a 1 a. and 1 b. scenario. Keller has done well in a terrible situation on a very bad team.

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Two perennial contenders and then there’s Scheifele, who before his injury, was on a different level, both in terms of points and how he plays the game defensively.

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights
Biggest Surprise (Player): Brayden Schenn
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Edmonton Oilers
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Matt Duchene

Second half storyline to watch: Will the Golden Knights stay the course and sell, even with their high position in the standings, or will they be buyers at the trade deadline?

Getty Images

ADAM GRETZ

HART TROPHY
1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

It’s hard to ignore the guy that is running away with the scoring title, that is on pace to finish with more points than any player has had in about seven or eight years, and is doing so for the best team in the league. So Kucherov gets my mid-season pick. Anze Kopitar isn’t far behind given the minutes he is playing and how dominant he has been all over the ice, and the fact the Colorado Avalanche are even in playoff contention at this point is largely due to MacKinnon having such a breakout year.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lighting
3. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

Subban isn’t just an exciting offensive player, he has become one of the best shutdown defenders in the league. Hedman is right there with him and John Klingberg is very quietly having a stellar season in Dallas. Tough race at this point with all three being very worthy.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Vasilevskiy has been amazing and doesn’t seem to get a ton of attention. His save percentage at this point would be one of the best single season performances in league history. Lundqvist is once again masking a ton of flaws for the Rangers and deserves to be in the discussion. Crawford has been sidelined (and still is) but when he has been healthy has been outstanding. If he misses too much time he might be out of the discussion toward the end of the season, but we are talking about first half at this point, and for the first half he has been one of the best goalies in the league.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. John Stevens, Los Angeles Kings
3. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lighting

How can it be anybody other than Gallant at this point? An expansion team with the second best record in the league? Yeah, it is his award at this point. The Kings look like a completely different team with largely the same roster as last season.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islander
3. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes

Boeser looks like the type of core player the Canucks need to be the centerpiece of their rebuild, while Barzal could be an excellent complement to John Tavares in New York for the next eight years (assuming, of course, the Islanders can re-sign Tavares).

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Bergeron is the centerpiece of the NHL’s most dominant line. They don’t get scored on, he has the best possession numbers of any forward in the league. He is simply a force and the best two-way player in the league right now. Couturier has always been an outstanding defensive player and now he has the offensive numbers that will get him noticed.

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights
Biggest Surprise (Player): Nathan MacKinnon
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Edmonton Oilers
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Matt Murray

Second half storyline to watch: Will the Penguins and Blackhawks, two of the most dominant teams in the NHL over the past decade, make the playoffs?

Getty Images

JAMES O’BRIEN

HART TROPHY
1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
3. John Tavares, New York Islanders

When it comes to the Hart Trophy, I think it’s better to take the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) approach. You can tie yourself in knots trying to argue “best player” versus “most valuable” and overly penalize someone like Kucherov for (gasp) having good teammates. Kucherov is head-and-shoulders above everyone else right now, and if you ask me, his 27 goals seal the deal.

It was tough to leave Connor McDavid off this list, but hey, he won’t suffer from such a snub during many healthy seasons. Honestly, he’ll almost certainly finish as a finalist through 82, anyway.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

I can feel the tomatoes coming my way from Hockey Twitter right now, but this has been a rough season for Karlsson, who may still be a Martian sent to our planet to play hockey at a maximum level of efficiency.

Anyway, Doughty’s really flourishing and is an enormous part of the Kings’ transition to a modern style. He’s generating the points you’d want, is a two-way dynamo from a possession standpoint, and is checking all the boxes. That said, the field is very competitive, with John Klingberg, P.K. Subban, and Mark Giordano just a few of the guys who also deserve consideration. With Karlsson slipping – by his standards – it makes for a perplexingly deep field.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs
3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

My goodness, a .935 save percentage is approaching golden age Tim Thomas territory (without the bunker, which seems like less of a silly investment in 2018). Vasilevskiy probably benefits from a great Lightning team, but he’s reminding the hockey world why TB opted for him instead of Ben Bishop.

The rest of the pack is really close, with Connor Hellebuyck, Pekka Rinne, and Corey Crawford all deserving consideration. One thing that stands out with Andersen is degree of difficulty; he leads the league in saves with 1,133, which is 101 more than the nearest contender (Lundqvist at 1,032). When records and save percentages are that close, I’ll go with the difficulty of an assignment.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins

I’m not a huge fan of making the Jack Adams the “overachiever of the year” award, but how could you not name Gallant here, at least halfway through the season? The Golden Knights aren’t just an expansion team; they’re an expansion team that plays a modern style and, while the goaltending’s often been strong, they’ve dealt with a ton of injuries at that key position.

While he has his quirks like just about any coach, this is the year where Cooper deserves some credit for ranking among the NHL’s best. Meanwhile, Cassidy and the Bruins are (darn it) overachieving.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
3. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

Who would have guessed that this rookie crop would follow up 2016-17 so well? Boeser’s a terrifying sniper making the Canucks less depressing, Barzal is an absolute sensation in Brooklyn, and McAvoy is playing the role of a veteran defenseman at age 20.

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Bergeron is basically a mutant at this point. Casual hockey fans still probably don’t understand how great he is. Kopitar’s resurgence has been a delight to observe. Meanwhile, Couturier’s proven that he can be a first-line center in a thunderous way.

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights
Biggest Surprise (Player): Dustin Brown
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Edmonton Oilers
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Second half storyline to watch: Will the Oilers and/or Canadiens make the trade deadline more interesting or remain in denial?

Getty Images

JOEY ALFIERI

HART TROPHY
1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. John Tavares, New York Islanders
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Kucherov has been one of the most dominant forwards in the league dating back to last year.  The Lightning forward has built up a nice lead at the top of the scoring leader’s board this season and he should continue to roll in the second half of the season. Tavares, who is a pending UFA, and Giroux have both had terrific season, but their teams need to make the playoffs to be in the conversation.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
3. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

Hedman continues to be the key cog for the Bolts on the blue line. He has less points than Klingberg and less goals than Doughty, but his all-around game has been nothing short of terrific. Hedman plays almost 26 minutes and, like other top defenders, he sees the opposition’s top players on a nightly basis. It’s his Norris trophy to lose right now.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Yeah, I’m giving the league’s three major awards to Lightning players. Vasilevskiy’s first full season as a starting goaltender has gone incredibly well. He’s been dominant between the pipes and he’s clearly been the best goalie in the league. Hellebuyck has been a pleasant surprise and Crawford has kept the Blackhawks afloat, but they still aren’t at Vasilevskiy’s level.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. John Hynes, New Jersey Devils
3. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

Prior to the start of the season, nobody in the hockey world had any kind of positive expectations for Golden Knights. Not only are they in the playoff conversation, they currently lead the Pacific Division. That alone gets Gallant the award. The work Hynes has done in New Jersey is also very impressive. Cooper deserves plenty of credit for everything the Bolts have accomplished in the first half of the season. But nothing tops an expansion team leading their division at the midway point of the season.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
3. Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning

Boeser is rolling at a point-per-game pace, which is impressive considering he’s a rookie and he’s playing on a mediocre Canucks team. Barzal and Sergachev have both been impressive during their first full seasons in the NHL, but Boeser is clearly the leader in the clubhouse as of right now.

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Anyone who follows hockey knows that Bergeron is the top two-way forward in the game right now. Up until last week, Bergeron’s line hadn’t given up an even-strength goal all season. Kopitar and Couturier are both in the running, too. The Kings forward is having a terrific bounce-back year, while Couturier, who has always been a strong two-way player, has come into his own offensively.

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights (too easy). Honorable mention: New Jersey Devils.
Biggest Surprise (Player): Josh Bailey
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Ottawa Senators were a goal away from going to the Stanley Cup Final last year. They’re near the bottom of the East now.
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Jonathan Drouin

Second half storyline to watch: Can the Golden Knights make a long playoff run?

***

Who are your favorites for the major awards at the midpoint of the 2017-18 NHL season?

PHT Morning Skate: Top 30 free agents; Pacioretty’s career year

Getty
Leave a comment
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Former NHLer Mike Brown explains how he was able to make it to the highest level. (Puck Junk)

• The Hockey News breaks down the top 30 free agents to be. (The Hockey News)

Justin Holl and Travis Dermott have really helped the Maple Leafs blue line. (TSN)

• It’s been a tough year for Wild defenseman Matt Dumba. (Hockey Wilderness)

• It might be time for the Preds to turn to Juuse Saros a little more often. (Predlines)

• What are the fancy stats saying about the Los Angeles Kings? (Jewels from the Crown)

Max Pacioretty is on pace to have a career year. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• The Coyotes have loaned Barrett Hayton to Team Canada for the World Juniors. (Five for Howling)

• The Blues are about to have a lot of tough decisions to make on their roster. (Bleedin’ Blue)

• It’s time for the Lightning to give Cal Foote a chance to make their roster. (Raw Charge)

• Is it time for the Devils to start worrying about Jesper Bratt? (All About the Jersey)

• Cayden Primeau is showing that he’s already NHL ready. (Habs Eyes on Prize)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Red Wings snap skid; hats off to Panarin

Artemi Panarin Hat Trick Rangers
Getty
Leave a comment

Three Stars

1. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks probably had no business winning this game. They were badly outshot, outplayed, and needed to rely on their goalie to keep them in it. Fortunately for the Canucks, Markstrom was up to the challenge and played one of the best games of his career as he stopped all 43 shots he faced in a 1-0 overtime win. He held on just long enough for Elias Pettersson to score the game-winning goal thanks to a fluky assist from an unlikely source. Read all about it here.

2. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. The Rangers spoiled Bob Boughner’s San Jose coaching debut with a 6-3 win that was highlighted by another huge game for Panarin. He scored three goals and added an assist in the win to continue his incredible 2019-20 performance. His first year with the Rangers has been everything the team could have hoped for as he is now up to 18 goals and 41 total points in 31 games. The Sharks, meanwhile, are now 0-5-1 in their previous six games.

3. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. His point streak is now up to 15 consecutive games thanks to a two-goal effort in a 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators. It is the second game in a row that Eichel has scored a pair of goals as he continues to climb the NHL’s scoring leaderboard. He is unstoppable right now and trying to carry the Sabres to a playoff spot all by himself.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • The Detroit Red Wings’ losing streak has finally come to an end. They were winners for the first time since Nov. 12 thanks to a 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets to snap what had been a 12-game losing streak. Robby Fabbri continued his strong play since joining the team with a pair of goals while Filip Zadina recorded three points.
  • The Calgary Flames improved to a perfect 7-0-0 under new coach Geoff Ward thanks to a 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Johnny Gaudreau scored a pair of goals as part of a three-goal third period for the Flames to get the win.
  • Tristan Jarry recorded his third shutout in his past four starts for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they were 1-0 winners over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus coach John Tortorella had no words for his team’s lackluster performance. Read about it here.
  • Clayton Keller scored a pair of goals for the Coyotes in their 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks to put them back in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.
  • Eric Staal was in the lineup after a scary injury on Tuesday and scored a goal in the Minnesota Wild’s 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Oskar Sundqvist had a goal and an assist for the St. Louis Blues in a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
  • Another strong start for Jonathan Quick as he stopped 36 out of 37 shots for the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Steven Stamkos scored twice for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a huge 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins.
  • Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee each had a pair of points in the New York Islanders’ 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers.

Highlights of the Night

It came in a losing effort, but Nashville’s Matt Duchene scored an absolute beauty of a goal in Buffalo.

Check out this quick tic-tac-toe passing by the Islanders to set up Mathew Barzal for a power play goal against the Panthers.

 

Eichel’s goal to extend his point streak was an absolutely perfect shot.

Blooper of the Night

The puck ended up getting lost in Markstrom’s equipment and he needed a lot of assistance in finding it.

Factoids

  • Panarin’s hat trick on Thursday was the third of his career, all of them coming with different teams. [NHL PR]
  • Joe Thornton played in career game No. 1,600 on Thursday, making him and Patrick Marleau the first set of teammates to have 1,600 games played in their careers. [NHL PR]
  • The Islanders’ points percentage of .733 is the second highest in franchise history through the first 31 games of a season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 4, Nashville Predators 3
Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Boston Bruins 2
New York Islanders 3, Florida Panthers 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 1, Columbus Blue Jackets 0 (OT)
Detroit Red Wings 5, Winnipeg Jets 2
St. Louis Blues 4, Vegas Golden Knights 2
Minnesota Wild 6, Edmonton Oilers 5
Calgary Flames 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 2
Arizona Coyotes 5, Chicago Blackhawks 2
Los Angeles Kings 2, Anaheim Ducks 1
Vancouver Canucks 1, Carolina Hurricanes 0 (OT)
New York Rangers 6, San Jose Sharks 3

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Pettersson gets lucky assist from abandoned stick on OT winner (Video)

Leave a comment

Sometimes you need a little bit of luck to win in the NHL.

The Vancouver Canucks received a healthy dose of it on Thursday night.

They were 1-0 winners against the Carolina Hurricanes thanks to an incredible goaltending performance from Jacob Markstrom and an overtime goal from emerging superstar Elias Pettersson. Markstrom’s performance gave them a chance, but it was a stroke of good fortune and a filthy finish from Pettersson that put them in the win column.

While the stat sheet will officially give the assist on Pettersson’s goal to Brock Boeser, the real assist came from an abandoned stick that previously belonged to Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin. As the Canucks controlled play in the offensive zone, Slavin lost his stick in a battle for the puck with Boeser.

It would prove to be costly for the Hurricanes because, well, watch for yourself in the video above.

Maybe Pettersson still ends up collecting the puck and scores the winner anyway if that stick isn’t sitting there. But Slavin’s stick sitting in the exact perfect spot made it significantly easier for him to score the winner.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Tortorella has no words to describe Blue Jackets’ ugly loss

John Tortorella angry press conference
Getty
Leave a comment

PITTSBURGH — The Columbus Blue Jackets need points right now, and they managed to at least get one in a 1-0 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.

But even more important than individual points, they need wins.

They need to take advantage of every possible situation that presents itself for them to get wins, and they seemed to have a prime opportunity sitting in front of them on Thursday night against an undermanned team that was playing without its top-two centers and a collection of players that combined for $35 million in salary.

It also should have been an opportunity to build on a promising 5-2 win in Washington — the best team in the league! — in their most recent outing and win consecutive games for just the second time since the start of November.

It did not go that way at all.

They not only failed to collect the all-important second point, but they only managed a season-low 17 shots on goal (while allowing 32) and were consistently outworked and outplayed by a Penguins team that was without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, Nick Bjugstad, and Brian Dumoulin.

They were unable to generate any sustained pressure in the Penguins’ zone, and on the rare occasion that they did they were unable to solve goalie Tristan Jarry as he recorded his third shutout in his past four starts. It was only the second time this season they failed to record at least 24 shots on goal in a game (previous low: 19).

The Blue Jackets’ locker room remained closed longer than normal after the game, and once it did open there didn’t seem to be any answers for what had just happened on the ice other than the fact they had just been thoroughly outworked.

“They just worked,” said Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno. “They knew they were banged up. They just worked extremely hard. Early on we did not match that intensity at all. That is unacceptable on our part. We had moments, but not enough sustained pressure, not enough of what we bring. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that is not going to be the recipe for winning, especially in this league with how hard it is.

“We need to make sure that is never the case again where we are getting outworked by a team that knows its backs against the wall with the situation they are in. We are no in position, with the situation we are in, to take anyone lightly or thinking it’s going to be an easy game. I don’t think that was the case tonight, but it just didn’t look like we had the jump tonight. It is unacceptable.”

When asked if anything changed going into the game for Columbus knowing that the Penguins would be without Crosby (sidelined for four weeks) and Malkin (late scratch due to being sick), Foligno was quick to say the team’s mindset was to “just jump on them.” He said their inability to do so was what made their slow start so disappointing.

Head coach John Tortorella was not quite as in depth with his post-game responses and, quite literally, had no words to describe what he saw.

When asked about Thursday’s performance overall: “I don’t have any words to describe it.”

On whether or not he knew what to expect from this team on a game-to-game basis: “I don’t have any words to describe it.”

If he thought the performance in Washington would lead to a positive carry-over for a game like this: “I don’t have any words to describe it. I don’t know what to tell you guys. I hope you asked [the players] the same questions. I hope they answered you honestly.”

When asked if he was disappointed in the low number of shots, he sarcastically quipped, “I’m just thrilled with it,” before adding “that’s a great question, too.”

And that was it.

This always seemed like it was going to be a tough season in Columbus following the offseason exodus that saw Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel bolt in free agency. But the Blue Jackets remained bullish about their chances and the team they were bringing back, and there were certainly reasons for optimism. Whatever optimism existed, however, is quickly fading. After Thursday’s loss in Pittsburgh the Blue Jackets remain in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, are 10 points back of a playoff spot, and are now near the bottom of the league in nearly every major statistical category.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.