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Blue Jackets' stars come out to play in sixth straight victory

Led by Atkinson and Foligno, core group steps up in the clutch for Columbus.

by Brian Hedger JacketsInsider /

That's what it looks like when it all comes together for the Blue Jackets.

After a long stretch without their usual leaders doing what they usually do, seeing the Blue Jackets' top scorers pot huge goals - or any goals, for that matter - began to feel like a fading memory.

Not anymore, after the way Columbus defeated the Ottawa Senators at Nationwide Arena on Friday night. The Jackets won their sixth straight game by a 5-2 score, getting two goals from Cam Atkinson and one from captain Nick Foligno, who each scored in the third period and ended lengthy goal droughts.

"It felt like I hadn't scored a goal in a couple years," said Atkinson, who snapped an eight-game skid without a goal, which stretched back to Oct. 27. "It's good to contribute. That's my game. It's nice to be a part of it, and get back to my way of playing."

He wasn't alone in those sentiments.

Foligno also hucked a piano off his back, ending a career-high 13-game goal-less span by making it 4-2 in the third, less than three minutes after Atkinson's second of the game broke a 2-2 tie at the 10:40 mark.

His goal capped a 2-on-1 rush with Atkinson as his right wing, and there was an opportunity to pass the puck over for a shot at a hat trick. Foligno took the shot instead, using Atkinson as a decoy.

"I needed this more than Cam," Foligno said, smirking. "Actually, the worst part was ... I was looking to pass the whole time, and somebody in my head was just like, 'If you pass this, and it doesn't go through, they're going to kill you [on the bench], so you'd better shoot this.' I just saw the top corner was kind of open. So, sorry Cam, but I'll take that one. I'll give you a hat trick another game."

Maybe a little later in the season, when Columbus is getting goals aplenty from guys like Foligno, Atkinson, Artemi Panarin and others who came into this season looked upon as the main scorers.

For now, the Blue Jackets can savor a glimpse of what they could become if the stars get hot and the secondary scorers keep scoring like stars.

Columbus is in first place in the Metropolitan Division after 23 games because of those secondary scorers, who've led the charge while the top scorers have slumbered. The Jackets are also the hottest team in the NHL because their two-time Vezina-winning goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, has been a brick wall the past month or so.

This team hasn't just survived without consistent scoring from its stars. The Blue Jackets have thrived, continuing to win games anyway, leaning heavily on defense, puck possession and timely goals from role players like Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand and rookies Pierre-Luc Dubois and Sonny Milano.

Anderson leads the team with eight goals. Bjorkstrand's 13 points (five goals, nine assists) is second only to Panarin (14 points) for the team lead.

Dubois has played all three positions up front, and is centering the top line, playing with Panarin and Anderson. Milano scored five goals in the first eight games, fell into the doghouse for his play away from the puck and recently worked his way back to the third line, where's currently playing with Foligno and Bjorkstrand.

Throw in the contributions of young defensemen Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, not to mention Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara, and you can see how Columbus has stayed afloat.

If they keep it up after the the biggest names awaken, the Jackets are going to be a force to reckon with the rest of the season. They might be anyway.

"That's huge for their confidence, that they can be a big part of this and understand they fit in right where they are," Foligno said. "It gives us a kick in the butt, too, the guys that should be doing it and should be pulling the rope, to get [us] going. A lot of guys answered that tonight."

It was impressive to watch.

Despite going into the third period tied 2-2 the Blue Jackets played some of their best hockey, as a whole. They were up 25-13 in shots after two periods, dominated the puck-possession metrics and rarely allowed the Senators' neutral-zone setup to clog up their transition game.

They had star players going strong. They had role players continuing to play like top guys. They had Bobrovsky in net, again, not giving an inch in his seventh straight start.

This was one of the few games where it all sort of came together for the Blue Jackets, which provided a glimpse of what this team can become. They're still missing two forwards out with upper-body injuries, Matt Calvert and Alexander Wennberg, and the veterans who are healthy are starting to snap out of their funks.

"You look at [Atkinson] the last couple games, ever since he signed that contract [extension], he looks like a little bit different player," Anderson said, prior to the game. "He's getting a lot more scoring chances, and he's just going to explode here, anytime soon. Same with [Foligno]. Once they all come in together and start scoring goals, we're going to be that much better of a team."

News & Notes

HANNIKAINEN, KORPISALO TO CLEVELAND: Following the game, the Blue Jackets assigned forward Markus Hannikainen and goalie Joonas Korpisalo to the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League, and recalled goalie Matiss Kivlenieks.

Hannikainen and Korpisalo will play Saturday for the Monsters, who host the Texas Stars. Hannikainen has been a healthy scratch the past two games, while Korpisalo hasn't started for Columbus since Nov. 7 against the Nashville Predators, a seven-game span.

Korpisalo also started for Cleveland on Nov. 18, making 32 saves in the Monsters' 3-1 victory against the Milwaukee Admirals. That was to keep Korpisalo sharp during a stretch where Bobrovsky handled all the action in net.

Korpisalo was recalled and practiced in Columbus the following day, along with others sent to Cleveland for a game. That's likely the plan again, only this time Korpisalo might be getting a tune-up before starting one of the Blue Jackets' upcoming games in a home/road back-to-back against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday and Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.

ANDERSON BACK ON POWER PLAY: The Jackets continued to struggle on the man-advantage, going 0-for-2, but there was a noticeable change in the second one. That was the addition of Anderson, whose overall play continues to climb.

Playing with Panarin and Dubois, Anderson is beginning to add passing to his set of tools. He's already shown he can score goals, but lately his vision, puck protection and hands have helped him set up teammates for good scoring chances.

Anderson assisted on an even-strength goal by Markus Nutivaara in the second period, skating the puck all the way around the back of the net to deliver a feed, and also looked good on the man-advantage.

"I put him on the power play tonight," Tortorella said. "I took him off the power play [earlier], just because I thought it was too much ice time for him at that time of the year. We're going to give him another chance there. He deserves it."

MOTTE STILL GRINDING: Tyler Motte had another strong game, skating on the fourth line for the second game with Lukas Sedlak and Jordan Schroeder. He played just 9:42, but scored an empty-net goal to seal the game, his third goal of the season, and had a big hit that preceded Atkinson's second goal.

He crunched Matt Duchene in the corner of the offensive zone, which allowed David Savard to hold the puck in the zone at the right point and send a pass to Atkinson for the shot. Motte had two shots, four hits and finished with a plus-3 plus/minus rating.

QUOTABLE: "Luc comes up to me every game and is like, 'I hope they don't switch the lines, I hope they don't switch the lines up,' and I'm like, 'Man, I think we're OK. Like, we have six or seven scoring chances every game. I think we'll be fine.'" - Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson, on his recent forward line, with rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois and left wing Artemi Panarin.


(All times ET)

Senators: Host the New York Islanders on Saturday (7 p.m., TV: CITY, MSG+, NHL.TV)

Blue Jackets: At the Montreal Canadiens on Monday (7:30 p.m., FS-O, Fox Sports Go; Radio: 97.1 FM,, TSN2, RDS, NHL.TV)

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