WASHINGTON — The Columbus Blue Jackets keep saying they’re oh-so-close to winning, but the results say they’re on the verge of setting a franchise record for futility.
The Blue Jackets finally got a goal from slumping star Johnny Gaudreau on Saturday, but they lost 4-3 to the Washington Capitals, falling to 0-6-2 since they last won a game Nov. 2. The eight-game winless streak is one short of matching a franchise record set four times previously.
The wild part is they’ve held the lead at some point in all eight games.
“It’s getting old, you know?” Blue Jackets coach Pascal Vincent said. “It’s getting old. We shoot ourselves in the foot.
“We do so many good things — and I know I’m repeating myself here, just replay the tape from the last game — but we do a lot of good things where we’re playing the way. And, yeah, we make mistakes like the other team makes mistakes, but we make those mistakes at the wrong time and it’s costing us games. It’s costing us points.”
Vincent, in his first season as an NHL head coach, has kept a calm and confident demeanor throughout the early-season struggles. But his voice carried an added level of emotion and frustration after Saturday’s loss.
The Blue Jackets are 4-10-4, last in the Eastern Conference. The only other season in which they’ve had fewer wins at this point of the season (18 games) was the 2011-12 season when they were 3-13-2.
“It’s every game, we’re right there,” Vincent said. “We could be four or five games above .500 right now. It’s getting ridiculous. It’s just those little lapses and then first thing you know, the puck’s in your net.
“We’re going to focus on the positives here. But it’s getting old. I’m repeating myself, I know, but it’s getting pretty f—ing old.”
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) November 19, 2023
Justin Danforth, Ivan Provorov and Gaudreau scored for the Blue Jackets, and goaltender Elvis Merzlikins stopped 22 of 26 shots.
Gaudreau, playing his 700th NHL game and off to the slowest start of his career, took the ice as an extra attacker during a delayed penalty on Washington at 3:27 of the second period. He stepped into a pass from Boone Jenner in the right circle and scored through traffic, giving the Jackets a 1-0 lead.
The lead was gone in less than two minutes. Former Blue Jackets forward Sonny Milano scored for the Capitals at 5:05 of the second, and they never trailed again.
Vincent didn’t specify the crucial mistakes the Blue Jackets made, but at least three moments stood out.
Moment No. 1: Trailing 2-1, Blue Jackets rookie Adam Fantilli played the puck deeper in his own zone to Zach Werenski, who had trouble with the puck in the corner. Dylan Strome won the puck with three Blue Jackets below the goal line and nobody checking Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin.
Ovechkin roared through the zone, took a pass from Strome and scored to put Washington ahead 3-1.
The Blue Jackets pulled to 3-2 on Provorov’s first goal as a Blue Jacket at 7:01 of the third period, and they were pushing for the equalizer.
Moment No. 2: Patrik Laine, who has been the very picture of frustration in recent games, was handling the puck on the left circle when Cole Sillinger came wide open in a scoring lane. Laine hesitated, then passed the puck to Sillinger a moment later, when he was surrounded by traffic.
The puck kicked off a Capital’s skate and shot out of the zone, allowing Hendrix Lapierre to track it down for a breakaway to make it 4-2.
The Blue Jackets pulled closer again, this time on Danforth’s goal on the doorstep off a Sean Kuraly feed. It was 4-3 with 4:12 remaining.
Moment No. 3: The Jackets went on the power play with 2:32 remaining when Washington’s Trevor van Riemsdyk was called for holding Columbus rookie David Jiricek.
The Blue Jackets power play, seemingly stuck in a six-season ice age, hasn’t scored a big goal in years. It faltered at a crucial time when the Jackets could have pulled even.
“Same old story,” Provorov said. “It’s like you’re rewatching the same movie over and over again. Obviously, we’ve got young guys on our team, and this team last year went through a rough time. It feels like we’re almost there, but not quite, and that almost there is a big difference between winning and losing.
“This is the first time I’ve been on a team this good where the record doesn’t show how good of a team we have here. We have to continue to work, learn from our mistakes, and stay on the gas. Things are going to turn for us.”
The Blue Jackets play Sunday in Philadelphia, marking the first time Provorov has returned to the city where he played the first seven seasons of his career.
The Philadelphia Flyers, in the early stages of a franchise rebuild, were expected to be where the Blue Jackets are in the standings. But they’ve won four straight and are 9-7-1 under former Jackets coach John Tortorella.
“Any time you go on a streak like this, you’re frustrated,” Danforth said. “We show up every day like it’s a new day, trying to get better every day. We’ve worked on it every day, trying to get out of this funk as soon as possible before it gets out of hand.
“It’s kind of already there.”
(Photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)