Columbus did not have much to be thankful for in its longest road trip of the season.
Late-game letdowns were the cause.
The Blue Jackets (12-9-4) have lost five games in a row, the longest winless stretch of the 2009-10 campaign. Four of the five losses were during the road trip, and the team continued its fall Saturday against Calgary with a 4-3 shootout loss at home.
Before the road trip, the Jackets marked down back-to-back home shootout wins against Anaheim and Edmonton. The team looked re-energized after an embarrassing 9-1 loss against Detroit Nov. 11.
But now, Columbus, like a younger brother getting bullied in the backyard playground, looks worn out against the rest of the NHL. It has been hard to watch.
This team can win games. Last year, the club never went more than three consecutive games without a win.
But this time around has been different. What happened to the Blue Jackets finishing out a hockey game? The club has been ahead in each of the last five games, but failed to hold onto the lead.
The Montreal game was a hard one to digest. The Jackets led 3-2 headed into the final period but allowed three unanswered goals as the Canadiens came roaring from behind for the 5-3 win Nov. 24.
Coach Ken Hitchcock said after the loss that not managing the game has been the story of the season for the club. He’s right about that.
Columbus is third-last in the NHL in goals against, giving up an ugly 86 goals in 25 games with 32 suffered in the third period alone.
Saturday night was the worst of the worst.
Columbus seemed in control late in the third period with a 3-1 lead, but Calgary scored twice in a 1:19 span to tie it.
The Jackets consistently struggle in the third period. They just seem to be outmatched.
Sophomore goaltender Steve Mason looked good for most of the night against the Flames. But he gave up three goals on four attempts during the shootout, allowing Calgary constant open spaces between the pipes. He is now 0-4 in shootouts.
Maybe he’s moving too fast or seeing the puck too quickly. Whatever it is, the 2009 Rookie of the Year should not panic. He will need to continue to work with the coaching staff to get back where he was last season.
These next two games are crucial for one of the youngest clubs in the league. Columbus has back-to-back division games starting tonight against St. Louis at home. The Jackets travel to Chicago Tuesday night to face the Blackhawks, who are on top of the division with 35 points.
Standing at 28 points, the club can climb right back to where it was to begin the year in the Central Division with two wins.
Losing is contagious. It affects a player’s attitude on the ice, in the locker room and even at home.
All it takes is 60 minutes of physical hockey to wipe away the frustration. The losses will be forgotten, the third period woes will vanish, and the Jackets can get back to a winning mindset.