It wasn't pretty, but the Jackets earned a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday. Kyle Quincey and Cam Atkinson provided the early scores, and then Sergei Bobrovsky, as he's been known to do, helped the team hang on with 41 saves on 42 shots for his 41st win this season.
The Jackets came into the game looking to jump-start their offensive production, and they stepped up to the plate in the first period. Quincey got the home team on the board 14:47 into the game when, after a flurry of activity in front of the net, he gathered the puck off a Sabres clearing attempt and fired from above the right circle to make it 1-0 with his first goal as a Blue Jacket.
Cam Atkinson, who had moved to a line with Alexander Wennberg and Nick Foligno, capitalized three minutes later. Seth Jones carried the puck into the offensive zone and sent a perfectly placed pass across the right circle to Atkinson who made it 2-0 with his 34th goal of the season.
After that, the Jackets had to fight through a rough final 40 minutes. In the second period, the Jackets were outshot 12-8 and out attempted 21-14. Buffalo earned a power play goal to make it 2-1 through 40 minutes of play.
GUARANTEE YOUR PLAYOFF TICKETS
The third period showed some additional changes to the Jackets' forward lines, and they found a little jump in their step, but performed overall only in "spurts" according to head coach John Tortorella. The team went 0-3 on power play opportunities.
Brandon Saad (22-28-50) added a late empty net goal to move the score to 3-1 and mark his third consecutive season with 50 points.
Video: Atkinson on getting back to his strengths as a player
Atkinson's goal stood as the game winner giving him his eighth of the season and setting a new franchise record.
"The positive thing I take out of tonight's game is we find a way to win," Tortorella said. "Bob plays another really good game, and I thought we defended better for a number of minutes. Shot counts are deceiving. I thought we kept them outside, I thought we were really strong in front of Bob as far as rebounds. (This was) against a good offense team that is playing really well right now.
"I don't want us to lose our mind, I don't want us to turn something into panic - we just have to keep manage our season and keep trying to get better every day."
Here's what we learned.
Find the offense.
After the game, Tortorella was blunt about the challenge he sees his team facing now.
"We're just not consistent enough with our offense," Tortorella said. "And our power play? We're stuck in the mud. Our top guys don't seem like they have confidence offensively.
"It's really evident when our power play doesn't work our next few shifts are a struggle. We are struggling. Our top guys are struggling to make a play. I believe it will come back."
Tortorella changed his lines going into tonight's game and then tweaked them again to start the third period, and he believes he saw a push from the group, just not a consistent enough one. But the coach is not hitting the panic button. He's not sure how much - if any - movement he'll want to make within the lineup as his forwards find their way back to generating chances and goals.
Video: Seth Jones on his terrific assist tonight
The Jackets need to get back to playing a full 60.
Re-discovering offense isn't just a button you push. It's a process of preparing and playing the right way. Compared to the last few games, the Jackets want to be "on the upswing" as Brandon Dubinsky described it.
"It's about how we handle momentum swings," Dubinsky said. "Are we having big stretches where we are struggling? Are we taking periods off? Are we ready to start the game? Different things like that.
But it's about more than just stretches of play.
"I'd like to see us put in some full 60 minute games where you look back like we played a complete 60, even though I'm sure other teams are going to get some chances and some zone time. I don't think we've done that enough recently, but we're going to have to do it as we go here so we know we're prepared."
Video: Brandon Dubinsky on building for the postseason
Atkinson back on the scoresheet.
For all the conversation about how to get the offense going again, the team's top point producer got back in the goal-scoring column tonight with his first point in five games.
While being with new linemates certain provided opportunity, Atkinson found the answers to regaining his scoring touch in his own game and that could serve as a signal call to how the rest of the team's offensive weapons might wake up.
"I felt like the last four games or so I haven't really been skating," Atkinson said. "Whatever line I'm on, if I'm not skating, we don't get too many chances. I just wanted to work hard, and let my skating take over. Whether I scored or not, I just wanted to get back to what has made me successful."