COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Blue Jackets have lost more games than any other franchise since they joined the league in 2000, so it’s not as if long nights in Nationwide Arena are a rare sight or new phenomenon.
But Wednesday’s 9-4 drubbing at the hands of Tage Thompson and Buffalo — specifically the 6-0 shiner the Sabres put on the Jackets in a galling first period — was as ugly a display as anybody could remember.
“I just said in the other room, in 26 years pro, I’ve never seen that,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “We never had a chance tonight.
“We talked about their skill, their power play, and the danger. We saw it. We didn’t have an answer for their one line. Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”
The Blue Jackets trailed 3-0 before they even mustered a shot on goal, and that was a 165-foot floater from Columbus defenseman Marcus Bjork that was more or less a desperate clearing attempt.
Thompson had a hat trick only 12:22 into the game, well on his way to becoming the first opponent to score five goals in a game against the Blue Jackets, just one of the many franchise marks the Jackets would re-establish on this night.
The Blue Jackets took six minor penalties in the first period — an enraged Sean Kuraly was called for two tripping and two roughing penalties — and they paid dearly for it.
The Sabres, who scored three power-play goals in the first, pushed the lead to 6-0 before the Blue Jackets were booed off the ice for the first intermission. That became a recurring theme throughout the evening.
Worse, the game was broadcast to a national TV audience on TNT.
“We sucked pretty much the whole game,” Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine said. “You can definitely see that on the scoreboard. They were just pretty much playing with us the whole game. It just sucks.
“I’ve lost a lot of games, but I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a game like this.”
MAKE THAT 5️⃣ FOR TAGE THOMPSON ? pic.twitter.com/NaJ2gpwXRK
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 8, 2022
It was so bad that Larsen pulled his goalie … twice.
Joonas Korpisalo started, allowed three goals on five shots and was pulled at 7:28 of the first. Elvis Merzlikins replaced Korpisalo, allowing a goal on the second shot he faced and stopping just 16 of 21 before he was pulled after the second period.
Larsen wasn’t pleased, he said, that Merzlikins allowed three goals on three scoring chances late in the second after the Jackets pulled to 6-2, so he went back to Korpisalo.
The nine goals against matched a record for most goals allowed in Nationwide Arena, set twice previously.
“The worst part about it is we just wasted everyone’s time that was in the building,” Blue Jackets defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “We can give that time back to them. It’s a tough feeling.
“We’re gonna have to chew on this one. That’s not one you just sleep off. You definitely don’t wake up tomorrow feeling good about yourself. You shouldn’t, either.”
Kuraly kept it together before a run-in at the Sabres bench late in the game led to a 10-minute misconduct. He wanted to fight Buffalo’s Dylan Cozens, but officials stepped in between them before it got started.
“I wanted to do the same thing, I really did,” Gudbranson said. “It’s a really bad feeling and it’s hard to get past that. We were awful tonight. We weren’t great in the second period (on Tuesday in Pittsburgh) either.
“We’ve got to figure some stuff out, you know, quick. This one is going to burn for a while.”
The Blue Jackets got two goals each from Laine and Gustav Nyquist, but the game was never competitive or interesting. The only drama was whether Thompson would challenge the NHL record of seven goals in a game set by Joe Malone of the Quebec Bulldogs in 1920.
A crowd of 15,659 had mostly thinned by the end of the game, but those who stuck around entertained themselves with Bronx cheers whenever Korpisalo and Merzlikins made routine stops, and started a half-hearted wave in the final minutes.
As of yet, there have been no “We want Connor!” chants in Nationwide Arena, but those are coming. Connor Bedard, the presumed No. 1 pick in next summer’s draft, is the type of prized prospect the Blue Jackets have never landed in the draft.
Maybe this is the year. Maybe this misery will finally be worth it.
For now, the stark reality is this: there are 57 games remaining in this season, and the Blue Jackets have to hope they’ve found rock bottom.
The Blue Jackets’ dressing room remained closed to reporters for more than 15 minutes after the game, sure signs of a team meeting. When the doors opened, every player was seated at their stalls.
“There’s gotta be a reset here,” Larsen said. “There’s been some good stuff here of the last week and a half. Tonight, you start like that, it ends up being a shinny hockey game. It’s an awful game.”
(Photo of Tage Thompson: Kirk Irwin / Getty Images)