The Columbus Blue Jackets pride themselves on team defense and goaltending. Those two facets of their of game have been absent lately, with a season high-tying three-game losing streak the result.
Columbus tries to end a five-game road trip on a positive note and snap the Ottawa Senators’ four-game home win streak Thursday night when the teams meet for the only time this season.
Despite ranking 21st in the league last season with 2.68 goals per game, the Blue Jackets (12-8-3) had a franchise-best 92 points and reached the playoffs for the first time due mainly to Steve Mason’s(notes) stellar goaltending and a defense that ranked among the NHL’s best.
Neither Mason nor Columbus’ defense has performed anywhere close to that level this season.
Mason - the 2008-09 Calder Trophy winner as the league’s top rookie - ranks next-to-last in the NHL with a 3.59 goals-against average, and the Blue Jackets have surrendered a Western Conference-worst 84 goals.
One night after a poor performance in a 7-4 loss to the New York Rangers, Mason sat in favor of Mathieu Garon(notes) at Montreal on Tuesday. Garon stopped 24 of 29 shots, giving up three third-period goals in a 5-3 loss.
“We have not got good goaltending the last two nights,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “It’s got to be better. And for us, you can’t put in efforts like we did in the first two periods and then throw it away because we’ve thrown it away too many times on the road and that’s exactly what we did again.”
Antonie Vermette scored twice for Columbus, which hasn’t dropped four straight since it lost the final five games of 2007-08.
“We’re not focused in the right area,” Hitchcock said. “We want to play a different game than you have to play to shut a game down. We just want to continually play in a track meet and that’s exactly what we did and we got burnt. We forced pucks, we forced it into covered people, turn it over and it’s in our net. Not smart.”
Mason is likely to be back in net Thursday after he stopped 17 shots in a 1-0 victory over the Senators on Jan. 30, his only appearance against them.
Blue Jackets star forward Rick Nash(notes) had two assists Tuesday, but has gone a season-high three straight games without a goal. Left wing Kristian Huselius(notes) was held without a point against Montreal after collecting four goals and four assists in his previous five contests.
Ottawa (12-7-3) saw its season-best four-game win streak snapped Wednesday with a 3-1 loss at New Jersey. Milan Michalek(notes) tallied his team-leading 11th goal for the Senators, who have scored 18 goals during four consecutive home wins.
With No. 1 goaltender Pascal Leclaire(notes) sidelined about a month with a broken cheekbone, Brian Elliott(notes) likely will make his third consecutive start and first against the Blue Jackets. Elliott, who stopped 18 of 20 shots Wednesday, has allowed three goals or fewer in five of his six starts this season.
The Senators will be without second-leading scorer Mike Fisher(notes) (upper body) for a second straight game Thursday but expect to get veteran forward Alex Kovalev(notes) back in the lineup. Kovalev missed the last three games to attend his mother-in-law’s funeral in Russia.
Columbus has won three straight against Ottawa after going 0-3-0 with two ties in the first five meetings between the clubs.