Toronto coach Mike Babcock knew that his team was in trouble once they had to climb out of an early hole.
Rookie Joonas Korpisalo made 41 saves and Boone Jenner opened the scoring in the first period as the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets held on for a 3-1 win over the hometown Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
Jenner’s goal proved costly for the Leafs, who are rarely able to come from behind to earn two points. Toronto (16-18-7) has now won just seven of the 27 games when allowing the first goal this season and is 1-12-3 when trailing after 20 minutes.
“Catch-up hockey is losing hockey,” said Babcock. “Their goaltender was good, but we need to score first so we don’t have to chase the game. You don’t make the same plays because you’re pressing.”
“The way we executed in the first, I just didn’t think we were as good as we could have been.”
Columbus didn’t register its first shot on net until the 7:03 mark, and the Leafs held a 10-8 advantage heading into intermission. But Toronto failed to create any serious danger for Korpisalo and was held scoreless on three power-play opportunities.
“We got a lot of shots on net but not a lot of second chances,” said winger Brad Boyes. “They blocked a lot of shots and boxed us out pretty well.”
Jenner put Columbus (16-25-4) ahead and Toronto in danger at 15:08 when he tipped a Seth Jones point shot from the high slot past James Reimer.
Korpisalo was forced to make two big saves midway through the second period — first on a point shot from Dion Phaneuf that took a deflection, and then another on Peter Holland on a one-timer from between the face-off dots.
The 21-year-old Finnish goaltender’s efforts went a long way for his club when Alexander Wennberg made it 2-0 at 16:17. Reimer stopped Justin Falk’s point shot but couldn’t control the rebound and Wennberg was able to put it home on the backhand.
“It was right there and I thought I corralled it around his legs but it ended up beside me,” said Reimer. “Somehow it got free, it’s too bad.”
Boyes was finally able to get Toronto on the board late in the third with Reimer pulled for an extra attacker, but Brandon Dubinsky added an empty-net goal for the Blue Jackets, who snapped a four-game losing skid despite playing in the second night of back-to-back outings.
Reimer stopped 19 of 21 shots for Toronto, which has just two goals in its past three games, all losses.
“You look at two of the three we’ve lost, we had a good chance to win so you just keep on trudging,” said Reimer.
Before Boyes scored at 17:33 of the third, the Leafs had gone 127 minutes 27 seconds without a goal. Their power play is also just 2-for-27 in the last eight games after being held scoreless on three chances Wednesday.
Toronto heads to Chicago Friday to face the Blackhawks while the Blue Jackets return home to host the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.