Inside the Blue Jackets' locker room Tuesday at Nationwide Arena, there was a message written on the board.
It was a simple inquiry, three words long, and has yet to be answered in full by the Blue Jackets: "Who are we?"
It was put there by coach John Tortorella, who's still trying to figure this team out after an impressive 2-0 victory against the New York Rangers.
"That's the biggest thing I have my eyes set on here," Tortorella said. "We're a quarter of the way through the season. We've got to get straightened out who we are. We could talk about it, we could show tape about it, but we've got to play like who we are … and I think we took a step in the right direction tonight."
It wasn't perfect, but this was much better than the Jackets' previous two games - which were also victories. This one, however, ended in regulation. The other two ended in a nine-round shootout in Detroit - snapping a four-game losing streak - and a 2-1 overtime win Tuesday in Montreal.
Columbus didn't dominate either one, but gladly accepted wins presented to them by the genie who plays goalie for them, Sergei Bobrovsky. His bag of magic tricks never seems to run out, as he keeps contorting his body and making sure-thing goals disappear.
This time, however, Bobrovsky wasn't the main storyline - despite 36 saves and his second shutout of the season. The major takeaway was the Jackets as a whole, after they dominated much of this game.
They outshot the Rangers 42-36, including 33-21 in the first two periods. They kept consistent pressure on New York's Henrik Lundqvist, who needed 40 saves to keep it close. They got big goals from Zach Werenski in the second period and Artemi Panarin in the third, and they worked the puck below the hash marks in the offensive zone exactly the way Tortorella wants them to do it.
It was only one game, but the bulk of it answered that question on the board.
"We weren't in love with our last two games," center Brandon Dubinsky said. "Tonight, I thought we got back to who we need to be a little bit more. Now, it's just about trying to be consistent with it, day in and day out, [in] practices and games."
Video: Panarin is awarded the Kepi for his power play goal
Here's how it all went down:
Goals: CBJ - None; NYR - None
Shots: Blue Jackets 14, Rangers 12
Shot-Attempts percentage (Corsi 5v5): Rangers 53.6% (15-13), Blue Jackets 46.4% (13-15)
Scoring chances 5v5: Blue Jackets 9, Rangers 5
High-Danger chances 5v5: Blue Jackets 6, Rangers 4
1:05 - The Rangers got the first shot on goal, by Marc Staal from the right wing. They didn't get the first goal off that shot, because Bobrovsky was again sharp right from the start. The Jackets' top goalie made the first of 12 saves in the period with his glove, looking like a first baseman catching a throw across the infield off a ground ball to third.
1:06 - The first stoppage resulted in a second round of cheers for Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson, who was shown on the video screen next to the news that he'd inked a seven-year contract extension earlier in the day. Atkinson, who was also cheered when starting lineups were announced, didn't look up at the board until it was almost over.
4:51 - Atkinson grew up in Riverside, Conn., and was a big fan of the Rangers. Prior to the game, he talked about how great it would be to cap his big contract news with a couple goals against the team he cheered for as a kid. That nearly happened about five minutes into the game.
He got three shots on goal in a five-second span, including a low wrist shot to begin the barrage against Lundqvist. The Rangers' goalie turned it aside with his left pad, and then stopped Atkinson twice more at each post to keep it 0-0.
QUOTE: "I felt light," said Atkinson, who finished with seven shots and 10 shot attempts. "I felt good and just kind of confident, definitely, with and without the puck. I just felt like my legs were pretty light, which was nice. I'm just happy. That's the most important thing. When you're happy, you kind of play loose and you let your offensive instincts take over."
7:13 - New York's Brendan Smith drew into the lineup for the first time in six games, but did himself no favors by interfering with Werenski. The Blue Jackets didn't score on their first power play, but did put some good pressure on Lundqvist to keep the game scoreless. Columbus got off four shot attempts on the man-advantage and two on goal, including one by defenseman Seth Jones from the point that nearly beat Lundqvist. All in all, not a bad power play.
12:33 - Smith atoned for his earlier penalty and nearly got the game's first goal with back-to-back attempts around the net. Bobrovsky made another great sprawling save at the left post, off Smith's redirection of a cross-ice feed, and Smith missed on the rebound - sending a loose puck in the crease off the left post.
15:35 - At least once a game, and usually more often, Anderson does something to remind you just how rare his combination of size, speed and strength are in a league that keeps getting smaller and faster with each passing NHL Draft. This time, the Jackets' power forward carried the puck up the right wing on a 2-on-1 and got off hard slap shot with a defender all over him.
The shot hit Lundqvist's goal stick, and the sound could be heard throughout the arena. Still 0-0, though.
Goals: CBJ - Zach Werenski (Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner), 13:34; NYR -None
Shots: Blue Jackets 19, Rangers 9
Shot-Attempts percentage (Corsi 5v5): Blue Jackets 67.6% (25-12), Rangers 32.4% (12-25),
Scoring chances 5v5: Blue Jackets 17, Rangers 7
High-Danger chances 5v5: Blue Jackets 6, Rangers 2
0:19 - Thursday night, Atkinson had dinner with his good friend, Kevin Shattenkirk - a Rangers defenseman. After the news of Atkinson's contract extension broke via social media, Shattenkirk said dinner was on Atkinson.
A day later, Atkinson nearly made Shattenkirk pay for a turnover shortly after the face-off to start the second period. The Rangers were on carryover power-play time when Atkinson forced him into the turnover. He gave the puck to Brandon Dubinsky, and got a quick return pass. Atkinson skated it into the right circle and launched a hard slapper that hit Lundqvist right in the mask. Still 0-0, though.
2:17 - J.T. Miller has been a force for the Rangers this season, with 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) coming into the game. He nearly pushed it to 16 points and four goals with a pair of rapid-fire snap shots, but Bobrovsky stopped them both.
5:50 - Jordan Schroeder got off the first of two shots in the span of 23 seconds, sandwiched around one by Jones. It began a stretch of 7:32 in which the Blue Jackets dominated and outshot the Rangers by a 7-2 count. Lundqvist made all seven saves, but soon faced one he couldn't get.
Video: NYR@CBJ: Werenski blasts one-timer past Lundqvist
13:34 - GOAL - Werenski finally gets the puck past a goalie in a game otherwise dominated by close calls and great saves. It was the second straight goal Werenski scored for the Blue Jackets, who defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in overtime on Tuesday on his previous goal.
QUOTE: "Great save by 'Bob' and then we broke it out," Werenski said. "I just jumped up in the play and tried to create some offense. I stopped, just knowing if anything happens I needed to get back. [The puck] found its way on my tape, and I just shot it and put it in the net. It felt pretty good."
It was also a sweet move by Dubinsky that set it up. He carried the puck through the slot, pulled up to avoid a hit and the puck slid off his stick straight to Werenski. It wasn't exactly a drive-and-dish, but had the same effect.
Werenski put his shot high to the far side corner, and Lundqvist didn't have much of a chance.
QUOTE: "We got a little bit of luck," Dubinsky said. "It was [David] Desharnais that kind of slingshotted that puck, but you get some bounces and some luck on your side when you work it. It was a huge goal for us."
16:43 - Anderson continued to throw his weight around. The puck went into the corner in the Rangers' zone, Anderson chased it and Staal went with him. Anderson looped him with his free arm and stapled him to the boards.
As the puck went the other direction, Staal took exception and gave the Blue Jackets' power forward a piece of his mind and a shove. Anderson returned the sentiments and the shove. Nothing was called, because … hockey.
Video: NYR@CBJ: Panarin blisters top-shelf power-play goal
Goals: CBJ - Panarin (Bjorkstrand) 7:14; NYR - none
Shots: Rangers 15, Blue Jackets 9
Shot-Attempts percentage (Corsi 5v5): Rangers 62.9% (22-13), Blue Jackets 37.1% (13-22)
Scoring chances 5v5: Rangers 12, Blue Jackets 6
High-Danger chances 5v5: Rangers 5, Blue Jackets 3
Overall Corsi: Blue Jackets 51% (51-49), Rangers 49% (49-51)
5v5 Scoring chances: Blue Jackets 32, Rangers 24
Overall High-Danger chances: Blue Jackets 15, Rangers 11
1:31 - Gabriel Carlsson drew into the lineup for the Blue Jackets and replaced David Savard, who was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Carlsson blocked two shots and played 9:48 in the first two periods, but got tangled up with Kevin Hayes less than two minutes into the third and hauled him down for a holding penalty.
The Rangers, who have one of the most lethal power plays in the NHL, got their third of the game. Just like the first two, they didn't do anything with it. They didn't get a single shot on net and had just one attempt, which was blocked by Dubinsky.
3:46 - Not long after Carlsson got out of the penalty box, Coumbus swarmed Lundqvist again. Markus Hannikainen and Motte got off three shots within a 14-second span, but the Rangers' netminder came up big again. Motte had the best chance to score. He tipped an attempt by Jones, and followed it up with a shot off the rebound.
Lundqvist gloved it and laid on the puck.
7:14 - GOAL - Panarin did what he does against the Rangers. He beat Lundqvist for a big goal.
After scoring in each of the Blue Jackets' first two games against New York this season - including a game-winner in the third period Oct. 13 at Nationwide Arena - he did it again to give Columbus a 2-0 lead. It also ended a goal-less drought for the Blue Jackets on the power play. They'd gone 0-for-19 over six-plus games.
Panarin's fourth goal of the season came off turnover in the defensive zone by Rangers forward Kevin Hayes, who tried to clear the puck by sending it off the half wall. Oliver Bjorkstrand got it, sent Panarin a pass and the Russian left wing slapped it past Lundqvist.
The puck skipped off the inside of the glove, hit the crossbar and went into the net.
QUOTE: "It's just a matter of time before he scores more and more," Bobrovsky said. "He's getting used to the team. It's not easy to go into the new team, and play hockey. We play a little different style here, so it takes time to adjust for him, but … the whole team has lots of confidence in him that he's going to score lots of goals and make lots of points."
(All times ET)
Rangers: Host the Ottawa Senators on Sunday (7 p.m., TV: SN, MSG, NHL.TV)
Blue Jackets: At the Buffalo Sabres on Monday (7 p.m., FS-O, Fox Sports Go; Radio: 97.1 FM, BlueJackets.com; SN1, SNE, SNP, MSG-B, NHL.TV)