Blue Jackets continue ugly trend in blowout loss to Coyotes

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TEMPE, Ariz. — It started with another early lead and plenty of hope that maybe the Columbus Blue Jackets could stop their late-season free-fall with a solid outing against another long-struggling franchise, the Arizona Coyotes.

It ended with two of the Blue Jackets’ veteran players — captain Boone Jenner and defenseman Erik Gudbranson — shattering their sticks in frustration after the Jackets allowed two breakaway goals in a game that quickly turned into a laugher.

The Blue Jackets allowed four third-period goals — two of them short-handed, and all of them in the final 8 1/2 minutes — and lost 6-2 to the Coyotes in front of 4,600 fans in Mullet Arena on Tuesday. The Jackets have one win in their past nine games (1-6-2), and that win came against the NHL’s last-place team, the San Jose Sharks.

“It sucks,” Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski said. “Same story, different game. That’s how it’s been for us lately. I don’t really have much to stay. It sucked. Simple as that. It’s been that way for three games. I don’t have words for it.

“We’re finding ways to lose every night. When we compete like the first period, we’re a good hockey team. When we don’t, we see what happens.”

This road trip has followed an unfortunate theme, beyond the losing. The Blue Jackets have scored first in all four games. Tuesday, a power-play goal from Jenner, his 22nd goal of the season, gave Columbus a 1-0 lead at 11:45 of the first period.

But other than those 1-0 goals, the Jackets have been outscored 19-5 in losses to the Detroit Red Wings (4-3 in overtime), Colorado Avalanche (6-1), Vegas Golden Knights (4-2) and now Arizona.

The trip wraps up Thursday in Pittsburgh, where the Jackets haven’t won a game since half of their roster was in middle school. No, really. The last Columbus win in the Steel City was Nov. 13, 2015. Only Jenner was on the roster back then.

“We have to stick to the plan,” Blue Jackets coach Pascal Vincent said. “Puck management. Defensive routes. Somehow we have a good first period, and (tonight) the early second was right. Then, a little bit too risky with the puck and not intense enough without the puck.

“The hope plays … two of the (Arizona) goals were off turnovers. We have the puck and then they come right back.”

Jenner and Werenski each had a goal and an assist for the Blue Jackets, and Johnny Gaudreau had two assists. Werensksi’s goal, like Jenner’s, was a power-play goal, and it came late in the second period (19:21) to tie the score at 2.

For Werenski, incredibly, it was not only his first power-play goal of the season but also his first since March 5, 2022, versus the Boston Bruins. In fairness, he missed almost all of last season (69 games) with a shoulder injury, but that’s the longest such drought of Werenski’s career.

The Blue Jackets hadn’t had a power-play goal from a defenseman since Marcus Bjork scored on Dec. 4, 2022, versus Detroit. That’s remarkable.

Werenski’s goal sent the Blue Jackets into the second intermission with a boost. But they looked mentally fatigued and considerably sloppy in the third period when Arizona pulled away.

At 11:32, Josh Doan — the son of legendary Coyotes player Shane Doan — scored his second goal of the game to give Arizona a 3-2 lead.

At 14:49, Nick Bjugstad skated the puck right down the middle of the ice, through what is supposed to be “the hard area,” with no resistance, beating Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins with a clean shot.

It was about to get uglier.

Arizona’s Nick Schmaltz was sprung on a short-handed breakaway when the puck jumped over Jenner’s stick and went the other way. That made it 5-2 as Jenner shattered his stick on the goal post beside Merzlikins as the horn blared.

Gudbranson blew his cool after a short-handed goal by the Coyotes with 11 seconds remaining, pounding his stick against the wall by the Blue Jackets’ bench.

Perhaps in another show of frustration, Vincent went with some wild power-play units leading up to the Coyotes’ final goal.

The first unit was Dmitri Voronkov with minor-league call-ups Brendan Gaunce and Jake Christiansen, fourth-line forward Mathieu Olivier and Gudbranson, a third-pairing, stay-at-home defensemen. The second unit was comprised of minor-league call-ups Tyler Angle, Carson Meyer, Mikael Pyyhtia and defensemen Ivan Provorov and Jake Bean.

The Blue Jackets have now been outscored 106-61 in the third period this season.

The lone bit of good news for the Blue Jackets was the NHL debut of James Malatesta, who was recalled last week from AHL Cleveland.

Malatesta played only 11:43, but he had a game-high eight hits. With 1:21 remaining, Malatesta was confronted by Arizona’s Michael Carcone after a hit in the corners. Carcone slashed the stick out of Malatesta’s hands and stared him down before the gloves came off and they fought.

“I was trying to bring energy for the guys,” Malatesta said. “All the minutes I played, I just played my hardest. It’s too bad we couldn’t get a win, but happy with the way (my first game) went.”

As for his late-game fight, Malatesta said, “I’m not the type to back down.”

(Photo of Elvis Merzlikins and Josh Doan: Rick Scuteri / USA Today)

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