ST. PAUL, Minn. — They had a chance to go into their NHL-mandated “bye” week feeling good, but the Blue Jackets missed it by that much.
Actually, they missed it by a lot with all the missing they did on their shot attempts during a weekend back-to-back set – first in a 4-1 loss Friday to the Montreal Canadiens and again Saturday night in a 2-1 defeat at the Minnesota Wild.
After missing the net 11 times against Montreal, the Blue Jackets (28-17-3) missed the net 16 times against Minnesota and had 15 other attempts blocked — getting outshot 31-20 and losing their second straight game before getting a week off and nine days between games.
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“I think it’s been a struggle of ours all year long,” coach John Tortorella said of all the missed attempts. “It’s the best pass in hockey, is a rebound, getting it on goal. We wasted a great effort by (goalie Sergei Bobrovsky) and it’s mind-boggling what we do when we get near that net, and how many pucks we shoot wide or overhandle.”
Particularly galling to Tortorella against the Wild was the night of forward Anthony Duclair, whom he’d scratched against Montreal. Duclair started out on the third line, was eventually placed on a line with Artemi Panarin and hounded the puck all game.
He just couldn’t do anything with it once he got near the net. Duclair attempted five shots, but only put one on goal. One was blocked and three others missed the net.
“That Duclair, looks like a million bucks … every shift, looks like a threat,” Tortorella said. “Get to the goal, shot wide, stickhandle in the corner. It’s just so aggravating. Duke’s just on my mind because I thought he played really well, but (expletive deleted). You look like a million bucks getting to the net and it just explodes. He has got to slow himself down and we might have something there.”
Duclair wasn’t the only one Tortorella mentioned for misses.
There were 10 Blue Jackets who missed with attempted shots, including five who missed more than one time. It happened throughout the game, but off-target shots in the third loomed largest – with Columbus down just 2-1 the entire 20 minutes.
“(Josh Anderson), (Zach Werenski), third period especially, when we’re trying to crawl back into it … (Werenski) over the net, (Anderson) wide, (Duclair) stickhandling. Bang, it’s in the corner. Not even on goal. Has a chance in the slot, overhandles the puck, nothing to the goal. When we have a guy like (Pierre-Luc) Dubois, that’s really struggling, and we have other guys that have a chance to step up, we at least have to get the puck to the net.”
They weren’t able to enough and now have almost two weeks to erase it from memory. The positive they can take out of this game was in their own net, where Bobrovsky was sharp in making 29 saves.
After a tumultuous past two weeks, which included the Blue Jackets disciplining Bobrovsky for his actions after getting pulled Jan. 8 in Tampa, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner played more like himself again.
After allowing goals 1:29 apart in the latter stages of the first period, he didn’t let another one get past him. Bobrovsky made 15 saves in the second period and four more in the third, including his most impressive work right out of the gate.
Minnesota’s top line of Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund nearly scored on three quick attempts, but Bobrovsky made saves on the first two and got some help from the left post on the third.
“I feel good,” said Bobrovsky, who hadn’t played since allowing five goals in a 7-5 victory last Sunday against the New York Rangers. “I had that time to practice, to train a little bit off ice, on ice. So, it sharpened my game. The puck is still the same, you know? It’s the same size, same color. So, I felt pretty good.”
That sequence could’ve been a spark that inspired the Blue Jackets to claw their way back, if not surge ahead, but they just didn’t give themselves a chance to do it. Too many missed opportunities – other than Artemi Panarin’s perfectly-placed wrist shot during a power play in the second period.
“We wasted a great effort by Bob, not to get a point,” Tortorella said. “We had some looks to have a point and we just … sloppy group. Concentration, not putting the puck on the goal.”