The Blue Jackets (39-16-5) took a bite out of the big apple Sunday when they beat the Rangers 5-2 and leapfrogged New York (40-20-2) in the Metro Division standings to now sit at third overall. The team was led by two-goal performances by Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg. It was the second time in two nights that the Jackets earned two points from a divisional opponent.
"I think the first thing is we didn't try to get too cute," Brandon Dubinsky said. "For the most part we were just north south. The puck was transitioning quick, it was getting out of our end zone, we were getting pucks deep, we were forechecking, and we were playing consistently for all three periods. It was exactly how we want to play these games."
The Jackets have scored the first goal against the Rangers in every game against them this season, and tonight was no exception when David Savard, coming off his first career three-point night Saturday, fired a shot from the point that Wennberg tipped in to make it 1-0.
Rick Nash tied it up, but on the Jackets' first power play of the night, Atkinson fired from the slot off a Sam Gagner feed to make it 2-1 and secure a Jackets lead that the team would not surrender the rest of the night.
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In the second period, Wennberg notched his first score after a flurry of Jackets' shots led to an Oliver Bjorkstrand rebound that Wennberg backhanded past Henrik Lundqvist.
The Jackets weathered significant pushes from the fast-paced Rangers, and the third period saw Atkinson and Wennberg each add another tally, with a final Jackets punctuation mark from Josh Anderson to make it 5-1. It was Anderson's third goal in two games.
A late Jesper Fast goal got past Sergei Bobrovsky to make it 5-2, but the Jackets' goaltender came out of the game with his 32nd win of the year, tying a career high set during the 2013-14 season.
Here's what we learned.
Your best players need to be your best players.
Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg came into Sunday's game as first and second on the Jackets roster for total points this season. Each got two goals tonight. For Atkinson, that puts him at 29-24-53, tying his NHL career high for total points, setting a new career high for goals scored, and just one goal shy of 30 on the year.
Wennberg has 14 goals and 40 assists for 54 total points, marking career highs in all three categories for the Swede. That's an impressive feat in a season where he was challenged to step into the top line center role. Wennberg has grown defensively as well. It was his play on the penalty kill late in the third that pushed the puck to Brandon Saad leading to a penalty shot attempt.
Video: Wennberg on setting the tone coming off the bye week
Managing momentum is key.
The Jackets seized the lead in the game off Atkinson's power play goal in the first period, but the team had to weather bursts of energy from the Rangers who had a few stretches of controlled possession in their offensive zone, and outshot the Jackets in both the first and third periods. But the Jackets allowed no panic in their play.
"As we've seen in all the games against the Rangers this year we've seen they make a push," Dubinsky said. "I thought our guys did a really good job not panicking. I think we got a little scatter brained; but our guys packed it in and tried to deflect everything to the outside. We iced the puck a couple times and slowed the game down and weathered the storm until we could get the momentum back. I liked the way we handled the momentum swings tonight."
Video: Torts on the 5-2 win over the Rangers
A fresh look on the power play yields dividends.
The Jackets power play sat atop the league rankings for effectiveness for the better part of the season. But fewer chances, and a growing familiarity with the Jackets' strategy found them getting fewer pucks in the back of the net with the man advantage.
After the bye week, the Jackets showed a new look to their 1-3-1 setup for the first power play unit. Zach Werenski continued to lead the unit from the blue line, with Sam Gagner in the middle and Nick Foligno down low, but Atkinson and Wennberg switched sides with Atkinson now on the right and Wennberg on the left.
And the change worked. Tonight, the Jackets converted one of the two power play opportunities they were awarded.
"We haven't had many power plays but we've had some good looks of late," John Tortorella said. "(Assistant coach Brad Larsen) changed the look and make up, it was nice to score one tonight.
"It's a little bit of a new look and freshening it up for our players, but mostly for us. (Larsen) has been working at that as far as having a different look. A little change like that helps the players and they get rewarded with a goal."