The Columbus Blue Jackets enjoyed a much better start against the Phialdephia Flyers on Thursday night. They scored 44 seconds into the game. They made it 2-0 not long after that on an insane between the legs goal by captain Nick Foligno. Not a bad way to celebrate your 900th NHL game.
However, the 2-0 lead didn’t last for long.
Just seconds later, Travis Konecny deflects a shot past Elvis Merzlikins to make it 2-1. It was now time to strap in and play their most important game of the season.
At first, the Blue Jackets responded well. Stefan Matteau deflected a Boone Jenner shot to make the score 3-1. That’s a pretty good two days for Matteau. On Wednesday, he signed a new two-year contract. On Thursday, he scored his first goal since 2015. Things seemed to be going pretty good at this point.
But then, catastrophe struck at the worst possible time. As it turned out, it changed the momentum of the game for good. And we’re not even talking about all the injuries.
It started with a turnover by David Savard just inside the Flyers’ blueline. Nicolas Aube-Kubel then was given space and he ripped a shot past Merzlikins from deep. It was a terrible goal to give up at the time.
The Blue Jackets seemed to be in control. Even despite the turnover, the Blue Jackets appeared to be in position with a defenseman back. Simply put, it’s a shot that your goaltender has to stop. Now it’s 3-2 and the Flyers have life.
Next thing you know, an offensive zone penalty gives the Flyers a power play. Within seconds the game is tied. That 3-2 goal is just a crusher especially for a team on a lengthy losing streak. They haven’t demonstrated the ability of late to manage game-changing momentum. The Blue Jackets needed to get out of the second period up 3-1 at a minimum. They lost the game 4-3 in overtime.
Head coach John Tortorella talked about the Flyers’ second goal during his short postgame presser.
“The second goal (3-2 goal) with the turnover is just, that one hurts,” Tortorella said. “As I said prior to the Buffalo game, remember the Buffalo game when we were up 2-0 late in the period, we want to go in with that 2-0 lead. We need to grind away to come up 3-1. The second goal, a turnover, ends up in our net. And then we take an offensive zone penalty. I thought we hung in there. We played hard. Found a way to lose it at the end.”
What do the Buffalo game and Thursday’s game against the Flyers have in common? In both games, the Blue Jackets held multiple goal leads in both, including twice against the Flyers and in both games, the Blue Jackets lose. That is the catastrophic problem the team is facing.
When you go up by two or more in a game, you have to finish the game. You have a golden opportunity to gain valuable points in the standings. Instead, you lose them and it could eventually cost them the playoffs depending how these last 20 games go.
The Blue Jackets haven’t been able to manage the waves of momentum in recent games. They now have a seven-game losing streak to show for it going 0-3-4. Their next chance to start a new winning streak is Saturday in Nashville.
If the Blue Jackets want to make the playoffs, they have to manage different parts of the game especially when momentum is going the other way. You can’t give up a bad goal and then take an offensive zone penalty and expect to get good results. We’ll see if they take this lesson to heart before it’s too late in the season.
- The big story to follow now is the status of Oliver Bjorkstrand. Just 44 seconds into the game, he scored a goal that no one saw go in. It went to replay and the puck clearly hit the netting over the line. But then at the end of regulation, Bjorkstrand fell awkwardly into the boards and hobbled to the locker room. He did not play in overtime. He was seen leaving the arena on crutches. The team does practice Friday at noon. We’ll see if we get any further updates then.
- If it turns out Bjorkstrand misses significant time, you have to wonder how it impacts the trade deadline. What do you do if you’re the Blue Jackets? This many injuries and they still hold a playoff spot for now. Their position is not secure at all given the games in hand situation. But they’re in the fight. And do you consider selling if the injuries are too much? These next 72 hours will be crucial for the team.
- How about Nathan Gerbe? All he did was put a hard hit on Claude Giroux. Then he dropped the gloves with Travis Sanheim and scored a take down. A “Gerbe” chant could be heard in the crowd after. He might only be 5-foot-4 but he plays with the heart of someone who’s 6-foot-6. Players need to play with the heart he does.
- Sonny Milano was a healthy scratch Thursday with Matteau replacing him in the lineup. Milano didn’t play in the third period on Tuesday in Philadelphia. You’re already down forwards as it is so seeing that this was a healthy scratch should tell you everything you need to know about what Tortorella thought of Milano’s game. They went to Cleveland to replace him in the lineup. Yikes.
- Joonas Korpisalo was sent to AHL Cleveland on a conditioning stint. He’s close to returning. That should set us up for a 1A/1B goalie situation down the stretch.