Captain Andrew Ladd was the first to criticize himself after a 6-3 loss to Columbus on Saturday that had fans booing the Winnipeg Jets off the ice.
“I’ll take full responsibility for my play. I was awful tonight,” Ladd said.
“For a team struggling, probably looking for leaders, I wasn’t very good so I need to be a lot better and I will be going forward.”
The loss put the Jets (19-23-5) on a season-high five-game losing streak after the Blue Jackets capitalized on Winnipeg mistakes and breakdowns — some head coach Claude Noel said he’d never seen this season.
“It’s not easy right now. I mean, it’s tough to stay positive,” said Jets centre Bryan Little, who had a goal and assist.
“It’s kind of hurting everyone’s confidence right now. You know, the fans get on you. I mean, it’s not easy. It’s a difficult time that we’re trying to get through.”
Boone Jenner and Mark Letestu each scored twice as the Blue Jackets had four straight goals in the first nine minutes of the second period.
Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno also scored, while Curtis McElhinney made 28 saves as Columbus (21-20-4) won its third straight game.
“We believe in ourselves in here and we know when we play the way that we can, things will go our way and we’ve just got to keep focused on that,” Jenner said.
James Wisniewski and Derek MacKenzie each had a pair of assists for Columbus.
Ondrej Pavelec faced 26 shots for Winnipeg, which also got goals from Eric O’Dell, his first NHL goal, and Toby Enstrom.
“Right now, adversity is really the enemy and we’re not dealing with it very well, and we’re trying to deal with it,” Noel said. “There’s going to be no easy way to get out of it.”
The second period was especially puzzling.
“The game certainly unravelled in the second period on mistakes that were stuff that I’ve never seen before,” Noel said.
Columbus head coach Todd Richards said he talked to his players after the disappointing opening 20 minutes.
“Once we talked about things after the first period, obviously our focus and our attitude changed and we came out and started skating, pursuing pucks,” Richards said.
“We were willing to do the work, we weren’t waiting for our teammate to do the work. I think each guy took it upon themselves, that ‘this is what I need to do. I need to skate and work.“’
The Blue Jackets’ second-period barrage began with Letestu’s short-handed goal.
Just nine seconds after Blue Jackets centre Brandon Dubinsky was called for holding 27 seconds into the period, MacKenzie and Letestu went on a 2-on-1 and Letestu deked and put a backhand shot past Pavelec.
On that play, Noel noted there was an offensive-zone faceoff, his players decided to forecheck, didn’t lock the centre and gave up a 2-on-1.
“We’ve never done that before. We’ve never talked about that before. What is that? I don’t know,” Noel said.
“It’s not because they don’t care. Let’s make sure that that’s clear. They’re frustrated, too.”
When told of Ladd’s self-criticism, Noel said the captain places a lot of burden on himself, like leaders do, and he’s got to try to help him.
O’Dell scored at 4:32 of the first period during a goal-mouth scramble when he banged in the puck with a backhand while McElhinney was out near the edge of the crease.
Recalled from the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps on Dec. 17, O’Dell was replacing Evander Kane (hand injury) on the Jets’ second line with centre Mark Scheifele and right-winger Michael Frolik.
It was one of a number of roster changes for Winnipeg.
Noel had big defenceman Dustin Byfuglien playing right-wing for the first time this season on the top line with Little and Ladd. That moved Blake Wheeler to the third line with centre Olli Jokinen and left-winger Devin Setoguchi.
Noel said Byfuglien, who had an assist, played OK, and he liked that the fans cheered Byfuglien when he touched the puck early.
Little said it was tough for the new line combinations to click because penalties shuffled players around, too.
While he’s faced adversity in his career, it was different in Atlanta than in Winnipeg.
“It’s definitely magnified when you’re in Winnipeg,” Little said.
“I’ve had some tough times in Atlanta where no one seems to care. No one’s asking you questions, it’s not in the papers and people aren’t in the room after games.
“So it’s definitely more pressure right now to get out of this.”
Notes — The last time the Jets lost at least four in a row was late last season from March 28 to April 4, when they went 0-5-0 over that stretch a Letestu’s short-handed goal was the sixth one allowed by the Jets this season.