Blue Jackets give up goals at a franchise-record pace as they navigate a depleted roster

There they are!

In their past two games, the Blue Jackets earned thrilling overtime victories over two veteran clubs who are in the thick of a playoff race. It marked the Jackets’ first consecutive wins in five weeks and it hinted, ever so slightly, toward a strong finish.

The hiatus ended Saturday when the Blue Jackets returned to form in Montreal. Another wave of injuries is upon them, the defensive and goaltending lapses that have maligned this club for (at least) two seasons reappeared, and the Canadiens rolled to an 8-2 win.

The wheels didn’t fall off until the second period, but it didn’t take long. Thirteen seconds into the period, Montreal cracked a 2-2 tie and started a run of scoring six straight goals to finish the game, including a hat trick by rookie Rafael Harvey-Pinard.

The Blue Jackets barely pushed back. On the goal that broke the tie, defenseman Mike Matheson skated unabated the length of the ice for a clean look at goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, who managed to make the initial stop.

But Harvey-Pinard followed Matheson to the cage and got to the rebound.

“Simple coverage,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Just a (defenseman to defenseman) pass (by Montreal after the faceoff win). The guy (Matheson) skates by (rookie Kirill Marchenko) and goes down and scores.

“This isn’t rocket science here. You’ve got to do your job, and we weren’t. Especially the second period killed us. We didn’t skate enough. We didn’t manage the puck.”

The Canadiens scored four goals in the second period, pulling away to a 6-2 lead. Merzlikins was out of the game after Harvey-Pinard completed the hat trick with a power-play goal at 16:42. He was treated on the ice by one of the Blue Jackets’ trainers and appeared to favor his right leg.

“We refused to take care of the puck in the second period,” Larsen said. “Eight out of their 12 scoring chances came off our turnovers or us not reloading in the offensive zone. That was it.

“If you’re not going to do those two things, you just feed into their transition, feed into their speed. It just killed us.”

These could easily be Larsen’s comments from the first five months of the season.

With 10 games left in this season, the Blue Jackets have allowed 284 goals, already the second most in franchise history. The most goals ever allowed was last season, when the Blue Jackets allowed 297 goals, avoiding the dreaded 300 goals-against by stiffening defensively late in the season.

Oh, but they’re gonna blow past 300 this season. They’ve allowed six or more goals in 13 of their 72 games this season, an alarming figure.

The Blue Jackets got goals from Lane Pederson and Kirill Marchenko, both in the first period. Marchenko’s was his 19th of the season, pulling him just one short of Pierre-Luc Dubois’ rookie scoring record with three weeks left in the season.

Marchenko’s goal withstood an NHL review. Officials ruled that Montreal goaltender Sam Montembeault dislodged his own net a half-second before Marchenko’s tight-angle shot somehow cut a path into the cage, so it was allowed to stand.

But that was it offensively for the Jackets, who were outshot 17-5 in the second period.

It doesn’t help that the Blue Jackets are once again scrambling to fill out a lineup card, not to mention patching together reasonable lines.

On Thursday, Patrik Laine’s two-game trial run at center came to an abrupt end when he strained a triceps taking a shot at the end of practice. He missed his second game Saturday, moving Jack Roslovic back to center ice from the right wing.

In Friday’s 5-4 OT win over the New York Islanders, right winger Mathieu Olivier suffered a lower-body injury and was knocked out of the lineup, prompting the Blue Jackets to recall Trey Fix-Wolansky up from AHL Cleveland.

The decimation of the defense has continued, too.

Erik Gudbranson suffered an upper-body injury in Friday’s game and is out indefinitely. With Zach Werenski and Jake Bean out for the season with shoulder injuries and Vladislav Gavrikov traded to Los Angeles at the trade deadline, Gudbranson’s minutes and import on the Blue Jackets blue line have expanded.

Put another way: He has 711 NHL games under his belt. The six players who dressed on defense for the Blue Jackets on Saturday — Gavin Bayreuther (112), Tim Berni (49), Nick Blankenburg (43), Adam Boqvist (167), Jake Christiansen (27) and Andrew Peeke (185) — have played a combined 583.

And then there’s Merzlikins, who stopped just 18 of 24 before Hutchinson came on in relief.

Merzlikins, who just returned to the club after a two-week absence following the death of his grandmother in Latvia, has now been out of the lineup four times this season for injury or illness. Larsen said he had no update to provide after the game.

Hutchinson stopped 7 of 9 shots in his 22:51. Wild stat about Hutchinson: He played in only seven games all season, all in the AHL, before he was traded to Columbus on March 2. He’s played in eight games since then, including five relief appearances.

(Photo: Eric Bolte / USA Today)

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