– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEWARK, N.J. — The captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets could not help but express his disappointment in talking with the assembled media after Tuesday night’s game, praising the hard work of his opponents while opening up an inquest to his team’s lackluster play. Others in the locker room followed in echoing those same sentiments, the frustration in their voices evident when talking about their collective effort.
Minutes later, Columbus’ head coach repeatedly stated during his postgame comments that he had very few answers, if any, as to his team’s struggles on the night and why they occurred.
Oh, by the way, the Columbus Blue Jackets won the game.
Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson scored in the penalty shootout while goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky carried over his strong play in regulation and stopped both penalty shots in the extra session to lift the Blue Jackets to a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on Tuesday.
But after generating just 18 shots on goal in 65 minutes, much fewer than which could have been considered Grade-A scoring chances, the Blue Jackets were in no mood for celebration.
Self-castigation was more like it.
“It’s a good win for us, but I didn’t like the way we played a lot of that game either,” said Blue Jackets left wing and captain Nick Foligno. “I think [New Jersey’s] a team that works extremely hard over there and we didn’t want to match that or just play smartly within the game to negate that or counteract that.”
But, as they say in sports circles, a win is a win is a win. Sort of, at least as far as tonight’s winner is concerned.
“Very important two points, but there are certainly some struggles,” Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said tersely. “I’m not going to speculate [what’s wrong] either, I don’t know.”
There were things that went right for the Blue Jackets that earned them those precious two points in the frantic race to earn an Eastern Conference playoff spot over the next month; They scored just 52 seconds into the game, as Atkinson stuck home a rebound past Devils goalkeeper Cory Schneider after a point shot from David Savard went wide of goal; For the lack of opportunities it generated in the first 40 minutes, Columbus, which had just nine shots on goal in the first two periods, limited the Devils to just 12 during that same time period; and when New Jersey turned up the pressure in the third period, Bobrovsky was there to match, stopping all 16 Devils’ shots in the final 20 minutes of regulation.
But all of the above was not enough to reduce the self-induced ire about the play of a team that moved all of its chips into the middle of the table at the NHL trade deadline last week, acquiring forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from Ottawa, defenseman Adam McQuaid from the New York Rangers and former Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid. The expectations of a franchise that has yet to win a postseason series were raised considerably after those moves, especially considering Duchene, Dzingel, McQuaid, Panarin and Bobrobsky are all playing on expiring contracts.
Though Columbus has played only three games since its bold deadline day plunge, the results have been mixed, going 1-2 and heading into New Jersey on the heels to back-to-back home losses to Edmonton and Winnipeg.
“I don’t know why, for whatever reason, our mindset changed after the deadline,” Foligno said. “Before the deadline, I thought our game was bang-on against San Jose, everything we did. It just seems like we’re trying to be something we’re not. That’s a slippery slope to go down.”
New Jersey has continued its slide from playoff participant last season to residing near the conference’s cellar this season, choosing to call up and develop a lot of its young players during the final portion of the campaign. Veterans of the team combined to score the Devils’ only goal, however, as Travis Zajac scored into a wide-open net off of a feed from Blake Coleman at 17:00 of the second period. Captain Andy Greene had the secondary assist on the goal.
“We are not scoring as much as we need to, but we are a really hard team to play against right now,” Coleman said. “Our forecheck and our effort is very obvious. A lot of guys are starting to show they can play in this league.”
Columbus, currently two points behind both Carolina for third place in the Metropolitan Division and Montréal for the second Wild Card spot, begins a tough stretch of games against playoff contenders, starting with a back-to-back against the Penguins on Thursday and Saturday. The Blue Jackets also will play Boston twice next week before embarking on a three-game road trip to western Canada which stars with a match-up against the pacesetters in the Western Conference, the Calgary Flames.
“No matter what it looks like or no matter what the reason is that we’ve been inconsistent, we just got to go each day at a time and try to find a way to get better,” Tortorella said.