BLUE JACKETS (5-3-2) AT FLYERS (4-3-1)
Saturday, 7 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
Before the season began, John Tortorella made clear the style his team would have to play with this season to be successful.
"Safe is death" would be mothballed, at least temporarily, to let the team's goaltenders get used to their new roles. The forechecking system is the same, but carte blanche to take risks while searching for goals was to be discouraged.
The team wouldn't be sitting back, per se, but it did have to be "above the puck," as Tortorella describes it.
That means being positionally sound and avoiding breakdowns that would give teams free reign to pepper Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. The biggest onus would be not on the team's defensemen but on the forwards, who simply had to concentrate in making sure they weren't in a position to be caught behind the play.
"It's not a huge change," Tortorella said early in the season. "It's just a constant concentration of being sharp. That needs to be instinctive for us very quickly here this season. If we do want to have a chance to be successful, that needs to be an instinct of ours because we've done it so much in each game.
"When we're 10 games into it, we should be instinctive about how we have to play away from the puck. That's what we're trying to get to."
Video: Torts on the play of Pierre-Luc Dubois
So how are the Blue Jackets doing in that regard? By and large, pretty well. There have been breakdowns -- there will be every game in a sport as fast and reactionary as hockey -- but Columbus since the first two games of the season mostly has played the style Tortorella has been looking for.
The Blue Jackets are 5-1-2 in that span, including the current six-game point streak, and have outshot each of those eight opponents. Columbus has allowed 2.63 goals per game, which would have the Blue Jackets in the top 10 of the NHL if the first two games could be thrown out, and the 29.6 shots on goal allowed per game is sixth in the league.
Most importantly, team members appear to have embraced the mentality needed to continue playing the style that will yield results.
"We know if we play the style that if we're playing right now, we're going to give ourselves a great chance to win," captain Nick Foligno said. "We've played some really good hockey of late, and I like what I see in this group. I think it's only going to get better."
Ten games does not a season make. Tortorella said he'd like the style the team is playing to lead to more turnovers in the neutral zone, which should lead to more offense. He'd like to see the breakdowns continue to be trimmed down even if perfection is a difficult goal to reach.
But on the whole, the season's first round-numbered milepost has yielded solid results for the Blue Jackets.
"I think they should feel really proud of themselves as far as how they've handled some situations when they were down and just played within themselves," Tortorella said after the win against Carolina. "Hopefully that becomes us.
"It's 10 games. I don't know who the hell we are (yet), but I like this team. I like the enthusiasm they bring. We have to keep working at it so it becomes who we are, it becomes like a second nature to us."
Know The Foe
The travel fairy hasn't been kind to Philadelphia so far, as not only did the Flyers have to head to Europe to open the season vs. Chicago - a game the team won - they had to make an early-season Western Canada road trip that finished 0-2-1.
Outside of the tough travel, this is a team that on paper is off to a strong start despite the 4-3-1 record. So far, the team leads the league in shot share and expected goal share, as Philadelphia leads the league in shots on goal allowed per game (just 26.9) and is fourth in shots on goal taken (34.6). The team also has won 57.5 percent of its faceoffs, best in the league by more than three percent.
The possession numbers have been excellent, as has the team's 3.13-2.63 edge in goals per game. It's also helped that the Flyers' power play has been strong at 25.8 percent, sixth in the league.
2015 first-round pick Travis Konecny is off to a career-best start, posting a team-best 4-7-11 line through the opening eight games. Oskar Lindblom is the team leader with five goals among his seven points, while Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier each have five points and have won 68.3 percent of their faceoffs. First-year head coach Alain Vigneault's team has had to play without Nolan Patrick, as the No. 2 overall pick in 2017 is dealing with migraines.
In net, 21-year-old wunderkind Carter Hart hasn't had the best of starts (2-2-1, 2.59 goals-against average, .890 save percentage) but has been fine in his five games, while Brian Elliott (2-1-0, 2.09, .933) is having a bounceback season.
3 Keys to the Game
Possession: The Flyers have been perhaps the best possession team in the NHL this year, while Columbus has outshot eight straight teams. Winning the battle of strengths will be important.
Atkinson afire: Cam Atkinson got off the schneid with the winner vs. Carolina, snapping a six-game goalless streak. Will it be the start of something big? It could be, as Atkinson had four goals in four games last year vs. the Flyers.
Kill or be killed: It seems like we always put the penalty kill here, but the Blue Jackets have been playing teams with great power plays of late. Columbus has often won the battle, killing 14 of 15 power plays the last seven games. Gotta keep it going.
David Savard is expected to become the eighth player in franchise history to reach the 100-game milestone, one game after teammate Nick Foligno. … Oliver Bjorkstrand remains one point away from 100 in his career (46-53-99) while Riley Nash and Boone Jenner are two assists away from 100 in their careers. … Savard, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski each have 40 career goals, one away from tying the CBJ's all-time record for goals among defensemen (Rostislav Klesla, 2001-11). … Jones had three goals in three games last year vs. Philly, including two overtime winners. … The Blue Jackets have won five straight against the Flyers including three in a row in Philadelphia. … Columbus has played in eight straight one-goal games (5-1-2) and four straight overtime contests (2-0-2). … It is the fifth time in franchise history it has played in four consecutive OT games. The franchise record of six was set in December, 2014.
(Subject to change)
Nick Foligno - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Gustav Nyquist - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Sonny Milano - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Alexandre Texier - Riley Nash - Emil Bemstrom
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Ryan Murray - David Savard
Vladislav Gavrikov - Dean Kukan
Scratches: Jakob Lilja, Scott Harrington, Markus Nutivaara (injured)
Roster Report: Tortorella had no further update on Nutivaara after practice Friday and it appears the Finnish defenseman will be miss a second straight game with a lower-body injury.