SEATTLE — Two tough losses thanks to their truly terrible penalty kill. A veteran player left the club indefinitely to join the league’s player assistance program. A top prospect who’s at odds with coaches and management. The 19-year-old center, one of the top rookies in the NHL, suffers a scary injury.
Even in the inglorious history of the Columbus Blue Jackets, it’s hard to remember (or imagine) a weekend with more bad news.
The soul-crushing finish of the overtime loss in Vancouver on Saturday bled into the start of Sunday’s game with the Seattle Kraken, and the Blue Jackets could not recover. The Kraken rode a 3-0 first-period lead to a 4-2 win in Climate Pledge Arena.
Yegor Chinakhov scored twice in the third period for the Blue Jackets, and they made a serious push in the final three minutes to get the equalizer. But a Kraken empty-net goal with 13 seconds remaining ended it.
The early hole Columbus dug was ultimately too deep. After allowing three power-play goals to Vancouver in the third period Saturday, the Jackets allowed two more in the first period to Seattle.
Even for a penalty kill that’s been the worst in the NHL since Dec. 1, this was a new low. The Blue Jackets allowed five straight power plays on five penalty “kills” from the end of Saturday’s game to the start of Sunday’s, a franchise record.
The Jackets have lost three of four games on the season-long five-game road trip, but the bigger concern coming out of Saturday’s game was Adam Fantilli, who left the game at 6:51 of the second period after getting tangled with Seattle’s Jared McCann on a check near the benches.
McCann’s left skate appeared to make contact with the back of Fantilli’s left leg as he came back down to the ice following Fantilli’s hit.
Fantilli clutched at his left leg immediately and tumbled to the ice. Then, just as quickly, he jumped up on his right skate and hopped on his right leg to the bench. After a brief conversation with trainers, he headed to the dressing room.
Adam Fantilli went down the tunnel after this play due to an injury. pic.twitter.com/7elvDti3iI
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 29, 2024
The Blue Jackets announced at the start of the third period that Fantilli would not return to the game, but coach Pascal Vincent had only a limited update after the game.
“We don’t know (yet),” Vincent said. “Questionable for the next game (Tuesday at St. Louis), but I don’t have the full report.”
Fantilli is one of only four Blue Jackets players to have dressed in all 49 games this season, and he’s taken on an increasingly significant role as the season has moved along.
On Saturday, he started on a line with center Boone Jenner and right winger Emil Bemstrom, and he was two shifts into the second period on a line with center Dmitri Voronkov and right winger Kirill Marchenko when the injury occurred.
The 19-year-old has 12 goals, 15 assists and is second on the Blue Jackets with 115 shots on goal.
The Blue Jackets spoke earlier in the day about moving on from Saturday’s loss in Vancouver, but they seemed to be going in slow motion at the start of Sunday’s game.
The sloppy passing, the half-hearted puck battles, the lack of communication … the Kraken let them off the hook in the early part of the period, but they cashed in late.
Jordan Eberle scored two of the goals and assisted on the other in a span of only 5:18 late in the period that opened a 3-0 lead. Eberle has a five-game point streak against the Blue Jackets, putting up 4-3-7 in that span.
“We needed to bounce back,” Vincent said. “We needed to make a decision about what this game is going to look like. We didn’t like our first period. We weren’t physical enough. We weren’t moving our feet. We were just watching and reacting.
“The guys in the room made the decision that we were going to get more physical.”
The Blue Jackets steadied themselves in the second, especially goaltender Daniil Tarasov, who looked much sharper. But it was in the third where the Jackets really took off, creating a level of drama that seemed unlikely through 40 minutes.
Chinakhov scored on a wrister from the left circle at 7:12 of the third to make it 3-1. He pulled away from a faceoff at 15:58 and scored from the slot to make it 3-2.
“We fought back in the third, gave ourselves a good opportunity to find out there late in the game,” Johnny Gaudreau said. “We had a few good opportunities. We fought hard in the third, just a bad start (to the game) for us.”
A second on the night for Yegor Chinakhov ✌️ pic.twitter.com/37YIcAUg8y
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 29, 2024
Chinakhov has 14 goals, second on the club to Marchenko (15). The 22-year-old — he turns 23 on Feb. 1 — had several chances to catch Marchenko the rest of the way. He finished with 11 shot attempts and six shots on goal, both game-highs.
“This guy can shoot the puck,” Vincent said. “He can skate. He’s a strong young man. We saw a glimpse of what he can do. His growth has been consistent. He’s one of those winning players. At key times, he wants to make a difference.”
Tarasov finished with 22 saves, 15 of them in the final two periods. He was on the bench for an extra skater when the Kraken’s Brandon Tanev scored with 13 seconds remaining to cap the scoring.
“We didn’t have much in the tank to start the game,” Vincent said. “But they found a way to push themselves. We want to establish a don’t quit attitude, just keep going. We got better as the game went on.”
(Photo of Yegor Chinakhov: Stephen Brashear / USA Today)