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Jackets' mettle tested in early going

Hard-working, aggressive mentality has become their calling card

by Rob Mixer @RobMixer /

There have been many things to like about the Blue Jackets' strong start to the season.

Statistically, their possession numbers have rebounded and their special teams have been phenomenal. They have received excellent goaltending, contributions from all four lines and enabled coach John Tortorella to establish some consistency within the lineup.

On Tuesday night, they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning to secure the best November in franchise history, going 9-3-2 with a 7-1-1 mark on home ice.

Those things are encouraging and have led to the Blue Jackets being one of the NHL's early surprises; but perhaps unheralded and less flashy, the character of the team has been quite impressive.

When they trail in games, there's a calm on the bench, or a "different mood" as Tortorella has referenced on a few occasions. They refuse to panic and have focused solely on a day-by-day and game-by-game approach, with the goal of earning respect - of which they feel they currently have none - in the league.

"That's our goal," Tortorella said earlier in November. "We want to earn respect, because we don't have any right now."

Video: WSH@CBJ: Atkinson's wrister wins the game in OT

With an 8-1-1 clip and seven-game home ice winning streak already in their back pocket (the latter a new franchise record), these Blue Jackets are on their way to gaining some respect. They've caught a few opponents by surprise by how fast and direct they play, and Nationwide Arena has become a difficult place for visiting teams to emerge with points.

Yes, it's early, but this group has an encouraging resilience and fortitude about it.

One of the instances that comes to mind is Matt Calvert's storybook night on Nov. 18 against the New York Rangers - a night that not many will soon forget.

Calvert left the game in the second period after a slap shot from Rangers defenseman Nick Holden hit him in the forehand, requiring 36 stitches to repair before even considering a return to the game. Once cleared by team medical personnel, Calvert made his way back to the bench in the third period and scored the game-winning goal a few minutes later.

"He's a warrior - we know that," Brandon Dubinsky said of Calvert. "He's a guy that guts it out and puts his body on the line for the team every night. You can't say enough good things. That's way sports are so fun, because you get to write great stories…it's awesome."

Video: Calvert chats with Jody Shelley after the game

The game prior, it was Dubinsky who encountered some adversity. He took a puck to the nose (requiring some quick repairs) in the late stages of Columbus' 2-1 OT win over the Washington Capitals; on his first and only shift of overtime, he cleanly won a face-off to Cam Atkinson, who snapped in the game-winning goal.

There are plenty of familiar faces on this edition of the Blue Jackets, players who have been here for some lean years and who are desperate to be part of the solution. They've been joined by youthful newcomers like 19-year-old defenseman Zach Werenski, who Tortorella has called "unflappable" and praised his mental makeup.

"You can just see this is a really close team," Werenski told in early November. "Everyone plays hard, they do their job, and we just want to do whatever we can to help this team win games."

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