Blue Jackets starting to play the right way

“I
think we’re building something here. It kind of reminds me of our team
last year. We finally found out what’s working for us, and we’re
playing our game and playing to our strengths.”

That
was Columbus winger Matt Calvert talking about his team’s play the past
three games, two shutout wins, followed by the tough one-goal loss in
Pittsburgh Tuesday night.

One of the signs for
Calvert is the team’s cycling, which he says has been strong the past
three games, and adds it’s just a matter of putting it in the back of
the net. That’s exactly what Calvert did after a beautiful feed from
Mark Letestu, for the only goal in the 2-1 loss to the
Penguins.

But that loss aside, the Blue Jackets
have been a force the past three games, and they’ve been a team that was
clearly not outworked and was clearly tough to face. That was the
mantra last season during the run of success, but the team hasn’t been
able to find that game as consistently this year.

Has
it clicked, finally? Three games certainly don’t comprise a broad
enough brush stroke to say the Blue Jackets are poised for another run, but the
games against the Lightning, Wild, and Penguins could be a strong
indicator of better days to come. And winger Blake Comeau says playing
the “right way” comes down to the team’s defensive zone
first.

“I think it’s when we’re playing good,
structured hockey in our defensive zone we come out of the zone in
waves of three with the defensemen jumping in late, and we create
opportunities that way,” Comeau said. “I think when we’re playing well, we’re getting
the puck in deep and forechecking well.

“I think
most importantly it’s when we’re not cheating for offense,” he
continued. “We’re a team that’s comfortable winning 2-1, 1-0. And when
we play the right way, we’re going to get our chances as we showed when
we won 6-0 in Toronto and 4-0 here against Minnesota.  We have some
good skill on this team, but first and foremost we have to compete and
play a hard-checking game.”

One thing that was
obvious in the win over Minnesota compared to the loss to the Penguins
was the number of quality shots and rebound opportunities Columbus had
against the Wild versus the scarcity of chances in Pittsburgh.  Comeau
says it comes down to effort and support.

“A big
key for us is that we’re supporting each other, playing with speed
through the neutral zone,” he explained.  “And when we get the puck on
the forecheck, we need to get it up to our defense, and they’ve been
doing a really good job getting shots on net. And we need guys around
the net and in front of the net for those second and third whacks, which
obviously is something that we need to be better at, as
well.”

According to Cam Atkinson, the problem
getting quality shots through and generating more rebound chances in
Pittsburgh was an issue with positioning, not
effort.

“I think one thing that we needed to do
better is obviously we’ve got to get to the front of the net, but we’ve
got to get in front of the goalie,” he said. “We were getting to the
net, but weren’t getting to the top of the paint; it seems like we’re
getting to the sides of the net.  So, we have to get more scrums going
and get pucks through.”

No doubt, the game in
Pittsburgh was a bit of a step back from the impressive wins over Tampa
Bay and Minnesota. But in all three games, this Blue Jackets team
showed the characteristics of the team that came within a tiebreaker of
the playoffs last year. And Comeau says the team has figured out what
it needs to do to continue playing this brand of
hockey.

“It doesn’t matter if we’re playing at
home or a different building or what team we’re playing or what style
they’re playing. It’s more about what we’re doing,” he mentioned. “We have to play a consistent game. Hopefully
we realize in this room that when we’ve gotten away from it, we haven’t
been very successful, and when we’ve played the way we need to play,
we’ve won games. Hopefully we can keep going with that mindset and
string some wins together.”