BLUE JACKETS (9-8-4) at JETS (13-9-1)
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, Bell MTS Place, Winnipeg (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
John Tortorella watched the tape of Tuesday's victory over Montreal -- a crucial home win against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference thus far -- and you get the sense he might have wanted to burn it.
It's not that the Blue Jackets played that badly -- they won, after all -- or that the team had been lacking effort, per se.
But what he saw simply was a team missing a certain something.
"We don't have an identity," he told his team afterward. "I told them, 'We're a boring hockey team that is .500. We have no identity, and we have to recreate our identity.' "
Tortorella, then, saw progress in the Blue Jackets' 5-4 win over Detroit on Thursday night that extended the team's winning streak to three in a row.
It wasn't just that Columbus won - even if it wasn't always pretty, as the team had to battle from a second intermission deficit and hold on late after Detroit drew within one in the three minutes of the game - but that the team played with a certain kind of effort, hounding pucks and smothering the Red Wings defensively for the most part.
In the end, Columbus had a 71-40 advantage throughout the game in shot attempts, an edge that would have been even more pronounced had the Wings not thrown the kitchen sink at the Jackets in the closing minutes.
"I thought we took a step in the right direction," the head coach said after the game. "A step."
Tortorella has called this a crucial stretch for the Blue Jackets, and not just because the team is in the mist of playing eight of 10 games at home. With the quarter pole now in the team's rearview mirror, the feeling out process is gone.
Enough season has been played that the identity is being set. The Blue Jackets are in the midst of becoming who they will be for the 2019-20 season.
Captain Nick Foligno, back from a three-game suspension on Thursday night, also saw a team that played the right way in earning the win over Detroit.
"I think it was an understanding of who we are and who we need to be," he said. "You saw that. You saw the tenacity we played with, the edge, the grind. We scored some great goals because of it and drew some penalties because of it.
"That's Blue Jacket hockey. That's the way we need to play. That's the mandate in here, and it's nice to see we got it."
The next chance to continue building that comes Saturday night in Winnipeg against a team that again has one of the best records in the Western Conference.
Know the Foe
Winnipeg enters fourth in the Central Division and in a wild card spot, but the Jets have had their fair share of ups and downs so far this year.
The Jets are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, but this is not last year's high-flying team that finished seventh in the NHL in scoring at 3.29 goals per game. In fact, Winnipeg is 25th in the NHL in scoring with 2.70 goals per game while allowing 3.00, right in the middle of the league. Neither the power play (16.2 percent, 22nd) nor the penalty kill (75.5 percent, 23rd) have excelled either, though the latter has been improving of late.
There are still, obviously, some high-level talents up front for the Jets, though. Mark Scheifele continues to be one of the most dangerous players in the league with an 8-14-22 line so far in the team's 23 games, while Patrik Laine is having a bounceback season with six goals and 20 points. Kyle Connor has posted an 8-10-18 line, while Nikolaj Ehlers has a team-best 10 goals among his 17 points.
The blue line is totally rebuilt, though, with Dustin Byfuglien currently away from the team, Jacob Trouba traded to the Rangers and both Tyler Myers (Vancouver) and Ben Chiarot (Montreal) gone as well from a year ago. Josh Morrissey leads the defensemen with two goals and 14 points, while Neal Pionk has 11 points since coming over from New York in the Trouba deal, but offense is not the blue line's specialty these days.
In net, Connor Hellebuyck has been off to a strong start, playing 18 games and going 10-7-1 with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage, sixth in the NHL. His 11.94 goals saved above average, per Hockey Reference, is second in the NHL behind Arizona's Darcy Kuemper.
However, the Jets are starting backup Laurent Brossoit, who has played in six games (five start) with a 3-2-0 record, 3.92 GAA and .871 save percentage.
3 Keys to the Game
Road warriors: While the CBJ struggled at home to start the year, the team at times had more energy away from home because it knew it had to try to set a tone as the visitors. That's particularly important at Winnipeg, one of the NHL's toughest places to play.
Watch the big guns: Beating Winnipeg means keeping the Jets' top scorers in check. It's not an easy task, of course, but it's a team whose top-end talent can beat you.
Fill it up: With a season-high five goals in back-to-back games, you can see the offense starting to flow. Keeping that feeling of confidence going is crucial.
Columbus native Jack Roslovic has a 4-5-9 line so far for the Jets, while former Blue Jacket Mark Letestu is out for an extended time with a virus after playing in seven games. … Boone Jenner needs two assists to reach 100 in his career. … Zach Werenski extended his point streak to five games (3-4-7) on Thursday, while Dubois ran his point streak to three games (3-2-5). … Joonas Korpisalo has a .913 save percentage in his last seven starts while Elvis Merzlikins is at .919 in his last four appearances. ... Columbus has played in 14 one-goal games, most in the NHL. … The Blue Jackets were swept last year by the Jets but have won two of the last three in Winnipeg and six of the last nine in Manitoba. … Seth Jones had a 1-2-3 line in the two games a year ago.
(Subject to change)
Sonny Milano - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Emil Bemstrom
Nick Foligno - Alexandre Texier - Cam Atkinson
Eric Robinson - Alexander Wennberg - Josh Anderson
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Ryan Murray - David Savard
Vladislav Gavrikov - Dean Kukan
Elvis Merzlikins (confirmed starter)
Scratches: Riley Nash, Scott Harrington
Roster Report: The Blue Jackets will not make any changes to the lineup from the team that beat Detroit on Thursday with the exception of in net where Merzlikins enters for Korpisalo.