BLUE JACKETS (8-8-4) vs. RED WINGS (7-13-3)
Thursday, 7 p.m., Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
As the Blue Jackets stumbled through a 1-5-2 stretch following a 5-3-2 start, head coach John Tortorella said there was a cloud over his team.
It was as much about the vibe as anything else. While he felt Columbus was working hard, playing good hockey and creating offensive chances, it wasn't scoring goals and it wasn't winning.
As a result, it was hard to keep morale up no matter how hard the team was trying.
"Players just don't play with energy if you're not scoring goals," Tortorella said at one point. "I can talk to them (and say), 'That's a great reload,' and this and that, but that doesn't give them energy. They want to see goals scored."
Video: Torts comments on line mixing, Foligno's return.
Finally, then, the players are getting their wish the past two games. Columbus has eight goals over the past two games in wins over the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues as well as a Montreal team that so far this year has been among the best in the Eastern Conference.
Suddenly, there are things like point streaks, winning streaks and full scoresheets in the Blue Jackets universe, things that were hard to come by for a few weeks.
"I think you get confidence from it," said Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had two assists in Tuesday's win over the Habs. "It doesn't mean your game is perfect, but a lot of times it can help you get that extra step and feel lighter out there, feel like you have some more energy, I guess.
"But again, you still have to do the right things. You can't think, 'I have a goal and it's OK now.' It's definitely not like that, But I think it helps you if you score five goals as a team and guys are feeling a little better about themselves."
That attitude is probably what Tortorella wants to hear considering his view of the Blue Jackets' past two games. Neither was particularly perfect -- in fact, you could argue the team at times has played better games but didn't get the results -- but seeing his team put the puck in the net can help deliver that confidence that Tortorella was looking for.
But because there are areas in which the team can grow, particularly with its physical play, the head coach has some things to focus on in the leadup to Thursday's home game vs. Detroit.
"We gave up more chances last night against us than we have in quite a while," Tortorella said Wednesday after a short practice. "To me, the most positive thing of that game was I think some guys freed themselves up offensively. On the other side of it, I thought we took a step backwards on the standard of how we have to play, just as far as our in-your-face-type style. I think we've lost ourselves there, but offensively it was a step in the right direction."
Know the Foe
While the Blue Jackets have had the toughest strength of schedule so far in the NHL per Hockey-Reference, Columbus gets a chance tonight to take on the team last in the league in point percentage in the Red Wings.
In fact, Detroit has won just four of 19 games since a 3-1-0 start, though three of those came in succession from Nov. 8-12 over Boston, Vegas and Anaheim. Since then, the Wings are 0-1-2, though.
If you're looking for positives, they're few and far between when it comes to team stats. Detroit is last in the NHL in scoring (2.35 goals per game), last in scoring defense (3.70), 25th in power-play percentage (15.1 percent) and 30th in penalty kill (72.2 percent).
While the team struggles with scoring depth, there are some top-end players. Anthony Mantha has team-best marks of 12 goals and 22 assists, while Tyler Bertuzzi has totaled an 8-12-20 line. Dylan Larkin has six goals and 10 assists, while Andreas Athanasiou has a 5-7-12 line but is minus-20.
In net, neither Jimmy Howard nor Jonathan Bernier has stood out, though missing defensemen Trevor Daley and Danny DeKeyser to injuries has hurt defensively. In 12 starts (14 games), Bernier is 5-5-2 with a 3.24 goals-against average and .891 save percentage, while Howard in 11 starts is at 2-8-1/3.86/.884.
3 Keys to the Game
Play physical: This will be a focus of Tortorella after he feels the team is losing its way a bit here. Reestablishing that identity seems like a key piece of the team's puzzle.
Keep scoring: Scoring goals, what a concept, eh? But seriously, now that the team has some momentum in this department, it has to keep it going. It can be fleeting, after all.
Defensive identity: The quickest way to lose to the Wings is to break down defensively and give some of their top players a chance to score. The Blue Jackets have to play a full game with attention to detail.
There will be a mini hockey stick giveaway presented by Value City Furniture for first 10,000 fans. ... Boone Jenner needs two assists to reach 100 in his career. … Emil Bemstrom (3-3-6) is in the midst of a five-game point streak, tying a Blue Jackets rookie record. … Pierre-Luc Dubois has scored three goals in the past two games, while Zach Werenski has a four-game point streak (3-2-5). … Joonas Korpisalo has a .922 save percentage in his last six starts. ... Columbus has played in 13 one-goal games, tied for the most in the NHL. … The Blue Jackets have won eight of the last nine vs. Detroit. … Pierre-Luc Dubois had a 3-2-5 line in three games vs. the Red Wings last year while Josh Anderson scored three goals. … Columbus is 3-1-1 vs. the Atlantic Division this year.
(Subject to change)
Sonny Milano - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Emil Bemstrom
Alexandre Texier - Nick Foligno - 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
Joonas Korpisalo (confirmed starter)
Scratches: Riley Nash, Scott Harrington
Roster Report: Foligno is eligible to return from a three-game suspension and reenters the lineup in place of Nash. Korpisalo will make his third straight start in net.