John Tortorella probably won’t call Thursday a “no-show” performance from the Columbus Blue Jackets, but when it comes to the standings, they still have nothing to show for it.
When you take a step back, just about everything is painful about Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, which extends the Blue Jackets’ losing streak to four games (all in regulation).
For one thing, you have the more literal pain.
During warm-ups, All-Star forward Cam Atkinson was struck with a wayward puck off of a crossbar, the kind of freak accident that might inspire someone to gripe about players warming up without helmets (looks at Patric Hornqvist), but Atkinson had his lid on. If there are hockey gods, perhaps they simply determined that Atkinson would not play against the Jets.
Those hockey gods must also have a sick sense of humor during another sequence. With the game tied 3-3, the Blue Jackets received a key power-play opportunity after Mark Scheifele put a puck over the glass and into the safety netting. Lucky break, right? Maybe, but an unlucky moment came when the play was whistled dead when Brandon Tanev was struck by a Zach Werenski shot.
As you may remember, the Blue Jackets suffered from a power-play goal scored by the Pittsburgh Penguins during one of Columbus’ ill-fated playoff runs, even though Werenski was injured by a shot in a similar way.
Do you think this gross image of Werenski’s face popped up in Tortorella’s mind as he raged about the play being called dead? It’s certainly possible.
*Gross hockey wounds warning*
That would probably have left Torts & Co. grumbling even if they won the game in overtime, or at least took a point out of this.
Instead, Kyle Connor scored what would be the game-winning goal with just 1:14 remaining in the third period, and the Blue Jackets were unable to respond.
So, losing in regulation, with such little time remaining, is one reason why there was also some serious figurative pain on Thursday.
It may also sting to see Columbus fall short, even as both of their trade targets/free agent conundrums Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky made some big plays.
Panarin was especially impressive, scoring his 20th goal of the season with authority, and also setting up Atkinson’s replacement Josh Anderson for a nice power-play tally. Panarin played almost 26 minutes (25:52) and generally reminded the hockey world why he’s such a big deal, as if he hadn’t already done so by inspiring free vodka for life.
Bobrovsky’s had a tougher time this season, yet he’s still had his moments, including making this save.
Panarin’s points, Bob’s stops, and Torts rants were not enough, at least not on Thursday.
The Blue Jackets now sit at 59 points in 50 games, three ahead of the Buffalo Sabres (also 50 GP) for the East’s second wild card. While it’s not extraordinarily difficult, their stretch heading into the trade deadline may be challenging enough to increase the strain on everyone involved:
Feb. 2: vs. St. Louis
Feb. 5: at Colorado
Feb. 7: at Arizona
Feb. 9: at Vegas
Feb. 12: vs. Washington
Feb. 14: vs. Islanders
Feb. 16: at Chicago
Feb. 18: vs. Tampa Bay
Feb. 19: at Montreal
Feb. 22: at Ottawa
Feb. 22: vs. San Jose
While there are a decent number of home games sprinkled in there, quite a few of them are against dangerous opponents (possibly all if the Blues continue to trend upward).
To Columbus’ credit, they’ve battled through a lot this season. Thursday was a microcosm of that, as they gave the Jets a good fight despite unexpectedly losing Atkinson. And the Blue Jackets deserve at least a mention that they nearly fought back from a significant deficit before losing to the Sabres in the very game that enraged Tortorella.
Then again, this is also the sort of talk that the Blue Jackets are fighting against. A franchise that’s never won a playoff series likely isn’t soothed by the word “close.”
Losses like these have to hurt that much more.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.