Blue Jackets beginning to play with more confidence

With expectations high after last season, Columbus sauntered out of the

gate to start the 2013-14 season. The rollercoaster ride that was the

first two months of their season was frustrating on many levels,

peppered with good wins and very bad losses. The Blue Jackets’ identity of being a

hard-working team seemed to be lost in the sluggish

start.

But, here we are, nine days from

Christmas. The Blue Jackets have played 33 games and find themselves in

the mix for a playoff spot in the jumbled mass that is the Metropolitan

Division. With their record standing at 14-15-4 (32 points), they are

three points out of third place in the division and a guaranteed spot in

the postseason.

While still very much a work in

progress, they are beginning to play with more confidence, as evidenced

by their record the last four games. They went 2-2 overall last week,

2-1 against divisional opponents and earned 5 of a possible 8 points in

that span.

Nick Foligno, traded to Columbus from

the Ottawa Senators in July 2012, is one of the more outspoken leaders

on a very young Blue Jackets team. At the ripe old age of 26, he talks

the talk and backs that up with his play on the ice. He doesn’t shy away

from assessing himself and the team as they begin to find the gel that

will bind the club together as they look climb up the

standings.

“That’s how you build toward a

successful team,” Foligno said. “And I think you’re seeing that from

us. Our work ethic is the one thing that has remained constant. That’s

how you win. You may falter from time to time, but you rely on your work

ethic to get you through it. I think for us, it’s a matter of finding

that every night and making sure that that’s the one constant that

doesn’t waver from game to game.

“If our work

ethic is good, everything else comes along with it. Our physicality, our

skating, our structure and execution all plays a part. I think right

now we’re all battling really hard for each other and that’s showing up

on the scoreboard.”

They know where they stand in

the division and understand that they put themselves in a bit of a hole

earlier in the season. Yet, they still need to look at every game they

play as being the most important game. That worked for them in the past

and will hold them in good stead going forward.

“Obviously,

everyone knows the standings,” he said. “I think our approach (to it)

has to be game-by-game. For us to look that far ahead is dangerous

because we’re a team that kind of needs to stay ‘in the now’, focus on

what we’re doing and how we’re playing. Right now, it’s working for us. I

don’t want to see us get too far ahead of ourselves and focus on what

could happen.

“I think we’re a team,” Foligno

said, “to be successful, we need to be a team that gets ready for the

game. Once that game is over, you think about it, reflect on it and get

ready for the next one. That’s when we’ve been most successful and

that’s what we’ve been doing the last five games here. It really works

for us well.”

The confidence within the club has

ebbed and flowed throughout the first 33 games. Getting their emotions

on an even keel moving forward has helped in building their individual

and collective confidence. That translates into making smarter plays,

shooting the puck more and battling hard to get the two points a win

brings.

“Honestly, it’s a direct result of

playing the right way,” he said. “Everyone has seen the benefits of

playing the right way and that’s our forecheck, being relentless on

pucks, working hard and that’s where the shots come from. Obviously,

you’re making a conscious effort to shoot more, but at the same time

it’s because we’re getting in the places to shoot. Whereas before, we

weren’t doing those things.

“Because we are

working together as five guys on the ice, it allows you to have that

much more opportunity to shoot and to get out of your zone that much

better, too. If you look at our (recent) games, we’re spending less time

in our end and more time in theirs. That’s really been the

difference.”

Last year, they had an “underdog, us

against the world” mentality. While that didn’t quite carry over into

the new season, they are finding a way to get back to that way of

thinking.

“We have to (think that way),” Foligno said. “We’re not a team

that has done anything, so to speak, yet. We’re a team that’s working

towards that. But, we haven’t achieved anything

yet.

“You know, we haven’t gained the respect of

the league yet and that’s because we haven’t done it consistently. How

you gain respect and become a powerhouse in the league is to do it

night-in and night-out. That’s what we’re working towards. Right now,

we’re (starting to) show that we can do that.

“We

need to continue to do that. All of those things kind of iron

themselves out as you go. I’m really proud of the way we’re playing and I

know that it’s a driving force in our locker room. We have to make sure

that we’re a team that a lot of teams hate to

play.”

Injuries are a part of the game, yet

Columbus has depth within the organization that allows them to call up

players from their AHL-affiliate club in Springfield, and they

fit right in with the way the club plays the game. This has helped them

to keep momentum going in the right direction, without having to worry

about bringing a guy up-to-speed after being

called-up.

“It says a lot about the

organizational depth,” he said. “They’re stepping into a situation

that’s tough sometimes, but they welcome it with open arms and really

run with it. It says a lot about the group of guys we have in here that

can carry on with the injuries that we have. Injuries are a part of the

game. It’s how you weather the storm, so to speak.”

“We’re

looking forward to getting everyone healthy and seeing what our team

can do. It’s full-steam ahead now.

Short Shifts

Jack Skille has been recalled from Springfield in advance of tonight’s

tilt with the visiting Winnipeg Jets.

• Marian

Gaborik, D James Wisniewski and G Curtis McElhinney are all out for

tonight’s game. G Mike McKenna will make his 2nd start between the pipes

for the Blue Jackets.

• Gaborik and Wisniewski

could return to the lineup as soon as Thursday when Columbus travels to

Philadelphia for a game against the Flyers.