COLUMBUS, Ohio – Columbus hopes a decisive win can get the Blue Jackets out of their recent funk.
Pascal Leclaire made 21 saves for his league-leading seventh shutout and the Blue Jackets beat the Atlanta Thrashers 2-0 on Wednesday night.
“Guys came in and were ready to play and we played a simple game,” said Leclaire, who was credited with an assist on Dan Fritsche’s goal. “If we play that kind of hockey when our stars come back there’s no reason we shouldn’t win a lot of hockey games.”
Injured Blue Jackets’ forwards Fredrik Modin, Michael Peca and Manny Malhotra were also out of the lineup.
The Thrashers saw their four-game winning streak snapped in their first visit to Columbus in just over four years. Ilya Kovalchuk, the league’s top goal scorer with 29, was held to just two shots.
“We really played hard,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We did an unbelievable job of checking and creating chances in the first two and a half periods.”
With Rick Nash nursing a sore throat, Fritsche and Jared Boll picked up the scoring for Columbus, which entered having tallied only four goals in the last four games, three of them losses.
Fritsche started the scoring with a power-play goal at 7:39 of the first period on a wrist shot down the right wing that snuck under the arm of goalie Kari Lehtonen. Defenceman Ron Hainsey weaved into the Atlanta zone, flicked a backhand pass to an open Fritsche before setting a half-screen near the crease.
The man-advantage tally was only the Blue Jackets’ sixth in their last 58 opportunities.
“We had every excuse to lose this game tonight,” Fritsche said referring to a depleted line-up. “We took it as motivation, knew a lot of guys were going to have to step up and a lot of guys did that.”
Defenceman Kris Russell hit the post later in the period on another power play.
Boll made it 2-0 early in the second period with his fourth thanks to a persistent forecheck. While linemates Sergei Fedorov and Curtis Glencross created havoc near the Thrashers net, he dragged a loose rebound away from Jim Slater while gliding backwards and slotted a low shot from the edge of the crease just beyond the reach of Lehtonen.
“Guys stepped up and we played a team game,” Boll said.
Columbus continued to apply the pressure with Nikolai Zherdev clanging a shot off the left post on a power play that started at 13:16.
The teams skated to a scoreless third period with Atlanta still not generating any real scoring chances.
“They were doing the things that we talked about doing,” Atlanta general manager and coach Don Waddell said. “We were coming 200 feet the whole night. They were bottling us up in their own zone and the neutral zone.”
Notes: Nash and Kovalchuk tied Jarome Iginla for the most goals (43) in 2003-04. … Atlanta’s Slava Kozlov played in his 1,000th career NHL game. … The Blue Jackets are 13-2-4 when scoring first. …Kovalchuk, who’s scored the most goals and power play goals in the league since the 2001-02 season, played in his 165th consecutive game to set a new Thrashers franchise record.