First thing's first: it is ridiculously late, and I'm tired, so please pardon any typos and nonsensical ramblings.
**There shouldn't be any typos because part of my job is self-editing, but I trust you'll have my back.
After another solid, gritty performance, the Blue Jackets have back-to-back wins to start the California swing. This time, it was a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings (one of the hottest teams in the NHL) at STAPLES Center, a building the Blue Jackets hadn't won in since Jan. 7, 2012, when Scott Arniel was the head coach.
Grant Clitsome scored the only goal in that game and Curtis Sanford recorded the shutout. It feels a lot farther back than 2012, doesn't it?
I wrote this in my post-game story tonight, but one of the things John Tortorella has said repeatedly since taking over is that this team needs to bear down and do things together. One of his core beliefs is the team concept, doing things as a five-man unit, and against a hard, physical team like the Kings, you're going to need that type of effort.
Yes, there was a minor blip at the start and a major lull in the second period, but the way this group has shown it can gather itself, get mad, and keep pushing forward is really encouraging.
Here are three key items:
1. Push? Push back.
I mentioned on Twitter that I was particularly fond of how the Blue Jackets didn't bend or turn away when the Kings tried to impose their heavy forecheck and physical style. In watching games from around the league, you see a lot of teams go into STAPLES Center and melt under the Kings' forecheck, then start turning pucks over, and it feeds right into their game. The Blue Jackets played with an edge, they worried about their own business and turned the forechecking game on its head; they were first to arrive to pucks in all three zones, they initiated, and didn't let Los Angeles put the clamps on the game. Good stuff.
2. Offense from where they need it.
Tortorella is preaching structure in the defensive zone and he's trying to instill a philosophy of how he wants the Blue Jackets to defend as a group; in the offensive zone, he's said it pretty bluntly: he will stay out of their way and let the creative players be creative. They've needed to get scoring from some key sources, particularly those in the top six, and there are some positive signs so far on this trip. Cam Atkinson scored a key early goal tonight, Brandon Dubinsky was on the board and that adds to the offense from guys like Scott Hartnell, Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner on Tuesday in San Jose.
3. The captain leads the way.
Nick Foligno is a team-first guy, but you can tell it's weighing heavily on him that the offense just hasn't been there in the first 14 games of the season. This is a player who's scored 20 goals multiple times, put up a career-high 73 points last year and had a lot of things go right, so this offensive drought can be frustrating -- but he's kept at it and tonight was perhaps his best game of the season. Not only did he drop the gloves and, by his own admission, get himself further engaged in the game, he picked up an assist, had five shots and was a game-best +4 in the individual SAT department. The only thing missing was a goal for that Gordie Howe hat trick, but you get the sense it's not far away at all.