In an effort to turn around a dismal season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Doug MacLean fired himself.
Gerard Gallant makes his debut as Blue Jackets’ interim coach when the NHL’s worst team takes on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opener of a seven-game road trip.
With his team last in the NHL with 25 points and already 15 points behind the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, MacLean relinquished head coaching duties for the club and named Gallant interim head coach. MacLean remains the organization’s president and general manager.
“After several discussions with (owner John) Mr. McConnell, I have decided to step away from my head coaching duties with the Columbus Blue Jackets,” MacLean said. “Gerard Gallant will take over as interim head coach. He has spent the past four years as an assistant here. He played in the NHL for over 10 years and knows the league extremely well.”
The Blue Jackets won their first game in December, but finished the month with just one victory in their next 13 games (1-9-1-2).
In its final game of the month Wednesday, Columbus lost its third straight overall and sixth in a row at home, 1-0 to San Jose.
“Let’s just hope that this is the end of something that’s getting really old and the start of something new,” goaltender Marc Denis said. “Let’s hope we’re able to turn the page on a very mediocre year—2003 hasn’t been kind.”
The Blue Jackets don’t return home until Jan. 16. That could be very bad news for Columbus, which started 0-11-1-2 on the road this season before ending that streak Dec. 26 with a 4-1 victory at Chicago.
One of the few bright spots for Columbus has been the play of Rick Nash, the first overall pick in the 2002 draft. The 19-year-old left wing leads the NHL with 23 goals, including nine on the power play.
Unlike Columbus, Tampa Bay entered this season with big expectations after winning the Southeast Division in 2002-03 and advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Lightning opened this season very strong, but have won just four of their last 19 games (4-11-4), scoring two goals or fewer in 15 of those contests—all losses or ties.
Despite matching a season high with 42 shots and finally scoring on the power play, Tampa Bay settled for a 2-2 tie against visiting Florida on Wednesday.
“No matter how we may have played, we didn’t gain the extra point. We needed to win that game,” defenseman Dan Boyle said. “You never want to be satisfied with one point because we wanted two.”
Tampa Bay had been scoreless on 24 straight power plays before Brad Richards’ first-period goal Wednesday
“We simplified our breakout, and we simplified our approach within the foundation of the power play and just getting that puck to the net,” Lightning coach John Tortorella said.
STANDINGS (through Dec. 31): Blue Jackets - 25 points, 5th place, 21 PB, Central Division. Lightning - 37 points, 2nd place, 6 PB, Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Blue Jackets - Nash, 23 goals and 27 points; Todd Marchant, 14 assists; Jody Shelley, 110 PIM. Lightning - Cory Stillman and Vincent Lecavalier, 12 goals; Martin St. Louis, 18 assists and 29 points; Chris Dingman, 88 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 31): Blue Jackets - Power play: 13.8 percent (26 for 189), 22nd in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.0 percent (122 for 147), 21st. Lightning - Power play: 13.3 percent (22 for 165), 25th. Penalty killing: 87.0 percent (114 for 131), 5th.
SEASON SERIES: Lightning, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Oct. 23; Lightning, 1-0. At Columbus, Ohio, Lecavalier scored with 3:48 remaining and Grahame stopped 20 shots for his seventh career shutout.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blue Jackets - 1-11-1-2 on the road; Lightning - 9-6-3-1 at home.