Blue Jackets hit the skids offensively, come up empty in shutout loss to Islanders

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Johnny Gaudreau has never gone this long into a season without scoring, but he’s not the only Columbus Blue Jackets player who has started the season in an offensive funk. Kirill Marchenko and Cole Sillinger haven’t scored yet, either. Alexandre Texier hasn’t generated a point.

It’s eight games into the season, so a small sample size. But the Blue Jackets need them to awaken quickly if they’re going to find traction in what has been a choppy start to the season.

The Blue Jackets came up empty despite numerous scoring chances on Saturday, losing 2-0 to the New York Islanders before 15,424 in Nationwide Arena. While cursing their puck luck, the Jackets tipped their caps toward Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who was outstanding.

Varlamov had 16 of his 34 saves in the third period, collecting his 28th career shutout. Four of them have come at Columbus’ expense.

“He’s getting paid, too, right?” Blue Jackets coach Pascal Vincent said. “He’s a good goalie. We had our chances, hit a few posts. But our shot selection wasn’t the best. We want to create some offensive zone time and have a shooting mindset.”

Vincent wanted more bad-angle shots, a more reckless approach offensively. It’s not like Varlamov had it easy — especially in the third — but the Blue Jackets could have tested him more, he said.

“I thought we didn’t select the right plays offensively, and that makes the goalie look good,” Vincent said. “But he played well. Really well.”

The Blue Jackets have been carried early this season by the offensive contributions of Emil Bemstrom and Jack Roslovic. It was Roslovic who had the two best chances on Saturday, both of them on designed plays off the breakout during the power play.

Roslovic skated right through the Islanders’ penalty killers for two clean looks on Varlamov. The first was at 8:28 of the third, and Roslovic rang a shot off the far post. The second came just 30 seconds later, but Roslovic’s wrister from 15 feet was stopped by Varlamov.

It was that kind of night. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Blue Jackets created 40 scoring chances, 13 of them high-danger chances.

“We had three or four two-on-ones and two or three breakaways,” Gaudreau said. “Right there we could easily have three, four goals. We gotta put the puck in the net. It’ll come.”

Gaudreau knows it’s going to happen for him, eventually. He’s one of the NHL’s most accomplished offensive players, regarded most highly as a playmaker. On Friday, he had zero shots on goal despite playing 21 minutes, 32 seconds.

“Johnny created so many chances tonight,” Vincent said. “He’s looking to be a playmaker, we all know it. He’s not pushing and holding his stick too tight. He’s trying to make plays. He’s a veteran. He knows it’s coming. He’s going to have his chances.”

Marchenko, who had 21 goals in only 59 games last season as a rookie, wasn’t even in the lineup on Saturday. The healthy scratch wasn’t in any way punitive, Vincent said, just a product of a numbers game as the Jackets have too many forwards for too few roster spots, so something has to give.

On Thursday in Montreal, it was Kent Johnson who sat. On Saturday, Marchenko watched from the seats, after going without a goal in seven games and without a point in his last five.

Who is headed for the press box on Monday, when the Blue Jackets play in Dallas?

Sillinger and Texier could be candidates, though Vincent has been complimentary of their play. Sillinger, who had only three goals in 64 games before being sent to AHL Cleveland last season, has no goals in eight games so far this season.

Texier hasn’t registered a point in eight games, the longest pointless streak of his young career.

Vincent is on high alert in watching his struggling players to make sure they don’t start pressing for offensive production, thus making the Blue Jackets’ structure and system a secondary concern. So far, he said, he isn’t seeing it, even though they’ve been shut out twice already this season.

Right now, they’re living on chances.

“We had Grade-A chances (in the third period),” Vincent said. “We were on the puck, playing hard, creating chances. We want to bring that from the beginning of the game.”

They wasted a strong outing by goaltender Spencer Martin on Saturday. He had 31 saves, allowing two goals off rebounds. After the game, he said he wanted both of them back, especially the one at 15:45 that kicked directly to Islanders forward Kyle Palmieri for the 1-0 goal late in the first period.

A rebound put-back by Matt Martin with 3:21 remaining made it 2-0. On this night, that was more than enough for the Islanders.

The good news is the Blue Jackets are 3-3-2 — not great, but worlds better than last season — despite a large group of offensive players in slumps.

The Jackets didn’t get their eighth point in the standings until Nov. 10 last season. Their season was, essentially, over by the end of November. Gaudreau said that makes his eight-game streak without a goal easier to accept.

“We’re in a better spot as a team right now than last season,” Gaudreau said. “So I’d say, personally, I’d rather be in this position.

“We’re getting looks. We’re getting chances. It’s just not going in right now. (It’s a) matter of time. You go through these things at some point in the season. It just happens to be right now.”

(Photo: Joseph Maiorana / USA Today)

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