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Blue Jackets' identity taking shape after fifth straight victory

Search for consistency continues, but winning is part of this team's DNA.

by Brian Hedger JacketsInsider /

Utopia is still out there.

The Blue Jackets won their season-high fifth straight game Wednesday at Nationwide Arena, 1-0 in overtime against the Calgary Flames, but it was merely one game closer in their search for Utopia.

That's the ultimate goal this season, the hockey nexus where everything all comes together at the same time. Every shift, every period, every game gets a passing grade for consistency. It's Utopia, basically, because all teams search for it and very few ever get there.

Utopia is when guys like Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno are all over the scoresheet night after night, leading the charge, at the same time Bobrovsky continues his mastery in net and both special teams are clicking. Utopia is a good power play. No, check that. It's a great power play, and opposing goalies get nervous each time the ref's arm goes up.

Utopia is a defense that's actually not far from what we've seen from the Blue Jackets through 22 games, which along with Bobrovsky has helped lift them into first place in the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving.

"If our power play gets going, I think it's going to help all of our guys," coach John Tortorella said, prior to Josh Anderson delivering another victory 2:02 into overtime with his team-high eighth goal. "And if we get it all going together, we have something. It doesn't always happen that way, but … we've won in different ways, with a number of things not really going well for our team in pretty key spots, but we still found a way to win."

They've won while searching for their eventual identity. They'e won during the hunt for Utopia. That hunt is what keeps them hungry, and could ultimately prepare them for a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Until they find it, though, there's always reality. That's not bad either, right now.

There are still areas to work on, of course, but reality with this bunch is they figure out ways to win close games, especially in overtime or shootouts. Columbus played a good game against Calgary, a hot team with a high-scoring top line, but still had nothing to show for it after three periods.

Neither team had a goal, and both goalies were bricks walls. Anything could've happened in OT, but no matter to the Jackets. Going past regulation for these guys just means they usually win. They're 7-0-1 now in those games.

So, rather than blinking Wednesday night, they just did what they're programmed to do. They won.

The Blue Jackets have only scored 10 goals during this win streak, with three games needing OT or a shootout. They're close to having a different record, but that's not their reality. This team now expects to win those tight games, which might just be part of their that identity they're seeking.

They're winners.

"That could be it," said Nick Foligno, whose assist on Anderson's goal ended a stretch of 12 straight games without a point. "And what's wrong with that, right? I mean, I think we can still get firing on all cylinders with some guys, but it's weird, you know? Sometimes your team really doesn't. There's always something that's got to be tweaked, and there's sometimes you've just got to roll with what you've got and find ways to win."

That's a perfect description of this season.

The Jackets' ability to juggle whatever's thrown at them, and still win, is the biggest reason they're 14-7-1 with 29 points on Turkey Day - tied for most wins in franchise history after 22 games and second-most in points to the 30 they had a year ago.

They've won games they shouldn't have won, thanks largely to Bobrovsky. They've eked out games they should've won by three or four goals. They've coughed up leads and won. They've overcome deficits and won. They've won in overtime. They've won by shootout. They've won despite key forwards missing games with injuries.

They've won. Period. That says something about who these guys are, and what this team could become.

"That's exactly the thing that we have to take away from this," Foligno said. "We're finding ways to win."

It doesn't mean they'll stop seeking Utopia. They won't. It does mean they're growing in certain ways.

"We always talk about that," Foligno said. "The good teams do [it]. Even when you're not at your best, we've found ways to win. And when you are at your best, it's a 0-0 game and you're finding ways to keep it going and get the win. I'm proud of us. I think we're starting to understand our identity. I don't think it's there quite full-on, but our identity is showing up more and more often, and that's a promising sign."

It's promising because of things like their power play, which is still ranked 31st and having issues. It's promising because the big guns still aren't scoring goals in bunches. It's promising because in games like the one Wednesday night, when Calgary's Mike Smith had their number, the Jackets refused to wilt.

They kept pressing forward untl the Flames were out.

"It's been a weird year for us, so far," Tortorella said. "We've had no power play. The penalty kill's been very good. We really haven't had much scoring from our top guys. It's been basically our secondary guys, and we've still found ways to win. The goaltending's been really good, so we're still floating, you know? We're still afloat with some wins."

Bobrovsky is a huge reason, no doubt, but it's not all him. Columbus is 8-0-1 in one-goal games, otherwise known as nail-biters, and hasn't even come close to top gear yet.

It sort of makes you wonder: What if they ever find Utopia?

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