RALEIGH, NC — Johnny Gaudreau will remember his first game with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The forward won’t want to revive it.
— Zero points in a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Wednesday.
— An upper-body injury to forward Patrick Laine less than seven minutes into the second period that wiped out the chemistry he, Gaudreau and center Boone Jenner were starting to create on their two previous shifts.
— Lines that went into a blender after Laine, Columbus’ lone goal-scorer, left the game, leaving Gaudreau wondering who he was going over the boards with for every shift. He played with two different centers and three different right wings after Laine left.
“Yeah, I mean, dog [stinks],” Gaudreau said. “You never want someone to get hurt, but you’re on a new team, you’re building chemistry with your linemates, you think you had a good camp and then you’re not playing together in the middle of the second period. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious, but I thought we were playing well and then the game kind of slipped away from us.”
Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen didn’t have a further update on Laine’s status after the game, but it seems unlikely he’ll be ready to go in their home opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Nationwide Arena on Friday.
Laine’s right arm appeared to get caught sandwiched between the Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and the boards, bending awkwardly at the elbow. He finished his shift with 13:15 remaining in the second period and the game tied 1-1, came back to the bench and after being looked at by a trainer headed off to the locker room and never returned.
The Hurricanes scored the next three goals, including two on 20 shots in a third period that they dominated enough to send the Blue Jackets back to the drawing board after a training camp that was brimming with hope about what Laine and Gaudreau can do together.
“It’s just disappointment,” Larsen said. “It’s not frustration. That’s a wasted emotion. Unfortunately, I think they were building something there, they had a couple good looks, they finished on one and then that’s hockey. You can’t sit and feel sorry for yourself. Now we’ ll move forward, see where it goes.”
Video: Hurricanes top Blue Jackets in season opener
One loss, even with the injury to Laine, certainly shouldn’t eliminate the optimism that has engulfed the Blue Jackets since Gaudreau chose them as an unrestricted free agent on July 13, signing a seven-year, $68.25 million contract.
He arrived with fanfare and hype as a player who could change the narrative about Columbus and the Blue Jackets, making it a market other free agents should also want to go to, a team that has a promising future after winning one postseason series in its first 21 seasons.
Gaudreau, who had 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists) with the Calgary Flames last season, then got through training camp well, looking good with Laine and Jenner.
“He’s fitting in with our group on and off the ice,” Jenner said.
He even became a father on Sept. 30, when his wife, Meredith, gave birth to Noa, a baby girl who was already decked out in a Blue Jackets’ onesie in a photo the team posted on its Twitter account on Oct. 3.
But less than two weeks later here comes this bout with adversity; it won’t be the last he faces with the Blue Jackets this season or through the course of his seven-year contract, but that it happened less than halfway through his first game is a kick in the pants.
And it’s not going to get any easier.
The Lightning came to Columbus on Friday. The Blue Jackets play at the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.
Nine of the Blue Jackets’ first 11 games are against teams that made the playoffs last season, including a back-to-back against the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in Tampere, Finland as part of the 2022 NHL Global Series on Nov. 4 and 5.
“It’s definitely for real,” Gaudreau said. “That first game, obviously it was nice to get it out of the way, but I wanted to get off on the right foot, the right start and get a win. We didn’t do that. Going back home it’s an important game for us. We don’t want to start the season 0-2. We have to play two really good teams coming up here in Tampa and St. Louis. We need to win that home game.”
Larsen isn’t planning to add to the pressure that Gaudreau is already putting on himself. He understands it’ll take time for Gaudreau to get settled after playing the first 602 games of his NHL career with the Flames.
“The fact that he’s got a new child, nobody really talks about that,” Larsen said. “Everyone is high-fiving him, but we know what that entails. If you’re a parent, it’s a lot. There’s the human element to that too, the change in cities. It’s going to take probably more than one game to go , ‘Yeah, I feel comfortable here,’ but Johnny has been adapting just fine. He’s doing great and we’ll move forward.”