The clock is ticking on the first half of the season for the Calgary Flames.
"Ran out of time," coach Bob Hartley said following the latest loss in a down stretch.
The Flames will try to squeeze something positive from what’s left before the All-Star break, starting with Thursday night’s visit to the league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets.
Calgary (20-21-3) remains unable to get out of its rut, going 5-7-1 since a seven-game winning streak to open December. The Flames are tied with Edmonton at the bottom of the Western Conference with 43 points.
Tuesday’s 4-2 loss at New Jersey was their second in a row and gave them a 1-3-1 mark in five as they stumble toward the All-Star break.
"We’ve put ourselves in a little bit of a hole," defenseman Kris Russell said. "I believe in this team, I believe we can get out of it."
Calgary, 1-3-1 in its last five away from home going into the third game of a five-game trip, has seen its once-productive play in the offensive zone disappear. The Flames, who led the league with 3.55 goals per game while winning nine of 11 from Dec. 1-27, have scored two or fewer goals five times in nine games since.
They beat Florida 6-0 last Wednesday but have managed three goals in the two losses that have followed.
Columbus (17-26-4) might provide the perfect opportunity for Calgary to get back on track offensively. The Blue Jackets’ 3.21 non-shootout goals allowed per game is easily the worst mark in the league, and they’ve given up 3.80 in their last 15 contests.
The first 14 of that stretch were played without goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who missed 17 games with a groin injury. He was rusty in his return Tuesday, allowing five goals on 27 shots in a 6-3 loss to Washington.
Bobrovsky surrendered two goals on the first three shots faced and five on 15 before finishing with 22 saves, including denying Alex Ovechkin on a third-period penalty shot.
"It’s a tough spot," coach John Tortorella said. "We know he’s going to be better. He’s been out for a while."
Columbus has gone 2-4-1 in its last seven, further cementing its spot in the NHL cellar.
The Blue Jackets, however, have won the last three in this series and earned at least a point in 10 of 11 meetings. Rene Bourque scored twice and Bobrovsky made 38 saves in a 3-2 road win in the most recent March 21.
The Flames’ Karri Ramo stopped 23 shots in that contest and will make his first start since Jan. 11 after sitting out three games with an illness. He surrendered all of the goals in a 5-4 loss to San Jose his last time out Jan. 11 but posted a 1.01 goals-against average in winning two of his previous three starts.