SUNRISE, Fla. - The Blue Jackets' big guns aren't really firing through the early portion of the season, but there's good news hidden in that statement.
It hasn't really mattered yet, because the Jackets keep racking up wins and points while they continue to search for a more defined identity this season.
They've found ways to win, including a 7-3 rout of the Florida Panthers Thursday at BB&T Center, and they're not even getting a lot of contributions from guys like Artemi Panarin, Brandon Dubinsky or Alexander Wennberg.
"Well, right now we're just not getting much from our top guys," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. "I think the effort's there, but it's nice to score seven goals when [Nick Foligno] has nothing, [Wennberg] has nothing, [Panarin] has nothing, although he takes the shot [on Boone Jenner's goal in the third period]."
This time, filling the scoring roles were Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand, who each scored two goals to go with Jenner's three-point night (goal and two assists).
Tyler Motte and Markus Hannikainen also scored, while Zach Werenski, Matt Calvert and Markus Nutivaara had two assists each.
"Tonight, it was as close to an identity I'd like to see this team play [with], and that's playing fast, North-South, and getting under the hash marks," Tortorella said. "We did that more tonight than we've done all season long. And on top of that, I thought our [defensemen] were more elusive in the end zone. They were moving all over the place in the offensive zone. That's as close as it's come to how we want to play."
Columbus came into this game with one player in double-digit points, and that was Panarin. He only has one goal, but 10 assists for 11 points. Instead of the stars leading the way, the Jackets are getting depth scoring throughout the lineup.
This game was another example.
Columbus improved to 9-4-0 and tied the franchise record for points in the first 13 games of a season (18) by getting points from 14 different players.
Their goals were scored by four players, and they won for the fourth time in their past five games, two in a row.
"I think we've got a pretty deep lineup," Anderson said. "You look through all four lines, and they can contribute. You saw that tonight, with Hannikainen scoring, and with Motte coming up and now he's got two goals in the last two games. So, we've got depth. Everybody can put the puck in the back of the net, and then you look at our [defensemen], who are so dangerous."
Still, prior to the game, Tortorella talked about the Jackets searching for an identity. He knows that several top players are long overdue, but would like to see them start to make up for slow starts.
"We've got to slowly go about the process of trying to get people going, and feeling, 'This is who we are,'" Tortorella said. "We're not there yet. We're not even close to, really, who we are. And that's the process we're going through."
They've been impressive while going through it, including this game.
After falling behind 1-0 early on a goal by Mark Pysyk, the Blue Jackets got two goals from Anderson - his fourth and fifth of the season - to lead 2-1 at the first intermission.
In the second, they coughed up two one-goal leads, but made up for it with Bjorkstrand's two goals and one from Markus Hannikainen - his first of the season and the second in his NHL career. Bjorkstrand's first was the first of two power-play goals, which snapped an 0-for-12 skid on the man-advantage.
Columbus led 5-3 lead after two periods, and skated to the win from there. Motte and Jenner each scored in the third, with Jenner tipping home a shot by Panarin for another power-play goal.
All in all, when you consider the top scorers were again held in check, it was an impressive showing.
News & Notes
MILANO RETURNS: After missing his first game as a healthy scratch, rookie Sonny Milano returned to action and assisted on Bjorkstrand's first goal. He played 11:17, including 1:58 of power-play time.
Milano was scratched in the Jackets' 4-3 shootout win Monday against the Boston Bruins, with Tortorella saying he needed to learn to "respect" the NHL and its caliber of competition. Tortorella hasn't changed his tune.
"I think that's something you have to read as you go through the year," Tortorella said. "I'm not sure how it's all going to work out for him. The number one thing for Sonny right now is to respect the National Hockey League, because you can't do some of the things you think you can in this league."
What he means is, only a select few guys in the NHL can get away with the high-risk, high-reward moves Milano sometimes attempts. There's also a time and place for them, which he'd like Milano to determine better.
"He's not saying, 'The hell with this league, I can do this,'" Tortorella said. "It's just an inexperience of understanding how good these players are, how good sticks are, how guys can fool you at certain times and bait you, and you turn a puck over. It's respecting and learning the National Hockey League."
Milano can only learn that by staying in the NHL, but Tortorella didn't make any guarantees that will happen with Milano or other young players.
"Do we give him time?" Tortorella said. "We have to make an assessment. If we don't think he's doing it correctly and he sits out some more, then you make an assessment. You know, 'What's good for him?' We need to get him some minutes, and [it's the same] quite honestly for a number of guys on our team. What's good for them? Those are the discussion we have as we go through."
MOTTE SCORES AGAIN: Motte's goal was his second in as many games since the Blue Jackets recalled him Monday from the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League. Counting his AHL time, he's scored in four straight professional games and has six goals in his past four, including a hat trick last weekend against Ontario.
Motte was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks on June 23 in the same trade that brought Panarin to Columbus. He's got a lot of motivation, especially after being one of the Blue Jackets' final cuts of training camp.
"Being a call-up, you've got to continue to prove yourself and earn your keep," Motte said. "That is my game, and when I can get to it, find it early and play it throughout, I think I can be very effective."
POWERFUL POWER PLAY: It was to the point where a special "talk it over," type of meeting was held with the Jackets' power-play units prior to embarking on this road trip. Their power play went stale in a 4-3 shootout win against the Boston Bruins, going 0-for-5 and pushing their streak without a power-play goal to three-plus games (0-for-12).
The dry spell lasted one more power play, another rough one agains Florida, before Bjorkstrand broke the spell with the first of his two goals to put Columbus up 4-3 at 9:11 of the second period.
Jenner's goal in the third, which he tipped off a shot by Panarin, also capped a power play. The Jackets went 2-for-4 for the game.
"Great shot by him," Jenner said. "I just think we felt better, more comfortable moving it around today."
DUBINSKY UPDATE: Dubinsky was involved in a post-whistle scrum at the tail end of the second period in which he was assessed minor penalties for cross-checking and roughing. Florida defenseman Keith Yandle was also tagged with a roughing minor.
When the third period began, Dubinsky didn't return to the bench. He didn't play the rest of the game, but when asked, Tortorella said the veteran center is "fine."
(All times ET)
Blue Jackets: At the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday (7 p.m., TV: FS-O, Fox Sports Go, SUN; Radio: CD102.5 FM, BlueJackets.com)
Panthers: Host the New York Rangers on Saturday (7 p.m., FS-F, MSG, NHL.TV)