Through an inconsistent three-week stretch to begin the season, the Blue Jackets seemed to be a club in need of a spark. A player, a line, a game...just something to get them going.
Coach Todd Richards had seen flashes of play from his team that show what they're capable of on a nightly basis, but they have also been guilty of subpar periods which have put them behind the eight-ball. Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski summed it up last night when he said the team can't get hung up on individual wins and losses because the race is so tight; they simply have to keep improving with every game.
Heading into Sunday's game against the Edmonton Oilers, Richards made significant line changes in an effort to jump-start the Blue Jackets offense. Though it was a disappointing 3-1 loss, the Blue Jackets did much of what they set out to do: they put 40 shots on Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk and had more than enough opportunities to win the game, and the only thing lacking was finish.
The catalyst ended up being Brandon Dubinsky's line with Matt Calvert and Nick Foligno -- a combination of three of Columbus' most consistent forwards so far. They weren't rewarded on the scoresheet on Sunday, but 24 hours later against the San Jose Sharks, the pucks that weren't going in and the bounces they weren't getting suddenly showed up.
Right from the first shift, that line set the tone, Richards said. Dubinsky scored the first goal (his first as a Blue Jacket) only 43 seconds into the game, which was a deserved reward for a guy who has been as reliable as they come and embodies what the coaching and management staff wants from its veteran players.
"It was great to see him score," Richards said. "Everyone wants to contribute, and you really feel like you're contributing if you're able to finish and score a goal. He's trying to lead the team, you know? Teams' identities a lot of times are created based on their leaders and how they play.
"It was a workmanlike attitude and to me, that's Brandon's game. He's got some skill, he's got some speed, but it's his tenacity and I think we were a tenacious group."
Not only were they a force on the forecheck whenever they hopped over the boards, the Dubinsky-led trio put up points. They combined for six points (one goal, five assists), five shots and a +7 rating while creating match-up problems for San Jose.
The results aren't always going to come in that degree, Dubinsky acknowledged, but he wants to make this type of effort a constant.
"Something had to give, right?" he asked rhetorically. "We started getting more scoring chances last game and they didn't go in. We started creating tonight right off the bat and they went in for us.
"That's just the way we have to play. We're not always going to put six or seven on the board, but we give ourselves a chance to win, that's for sure."
Richards agreed and hopes a win heading into their upcoming six-game road trip is not just a confidence boost, but a reinforcement of what they've worked on over the last week or so. The Blue Jackets were able to hold some purposeful practices in their own building during the recent homestand and do a lot of teaching, which Richards said got everyone back on the same page and re-focused.
"Consistency, I think, was the struggle early on," Richards said. "There were a lot of inconsistencies from shift-to-shift, period-to-period. I don't think our structure was very good; we had a good practice a couple of days ago where we were able to work on some things. If we execute and do these things well, we have a chance every night.
"Again, it started with the first shift -- they set the tone. I thought this was (Calvert's) best game I've seen him play this year, he was really good on the puck. Nick had some really good moments, too...he was strong on the puck and making plays. I think they all have similar skill sets, but it's the way that they work."