This season, The Hockey Writers will have a recurring “Three Takeaways” feature after Columbus Blue Jackets match-ups, meant to serve as postgame quick hits.
1) Alexander Wennberg Gets Going
In his first 24 games, Blue Jackets center Alexander Wennberg tallied only two goals and 11 points. It was way below the expectations he set in the 2016-17 season when he posted 59 points in 82 games to earn his hefty contract at the start of this campaign.
Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella continually called out Wennberg’s disappointing and poor performances. With center Brandon Dubinsky injured on Dec. 12 against the Edmonton Oilers, Tortorella and Wennberg both knew the pressure was ramped up.
Since then, Wennberg has been a different player. He is riding a four-game point streak of two goals and three assists and is a more active participant on the Blue Jackets power play.
What’s different about his play?
“It’s a little personal, actually, but it’s nothing special,” Wennberg said with a sly smile after the Blue Jackets’ 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday. “It’s a different mindset; a different approach. There’s no secret to it. It’s the things inside your head that you do.”
Tortorella, however, had a different take.
“It’s his skating,” Tortorella said. “He’s skating more with the puck and he’s skating into holes. But you can see he still wants to pass that puck.”
Wennberg agreed with Tortorella on that one, as it has been a message Torts has been trying to send since he began his tenure in Columbus.
“I heard before that I had to do it, so I’m trying to shoot the puck,” Wennberg said. “With [Cam Atkinson on my goal], I was always looking for a pass. But at the end of the day, if you see the opportunity and it opens up for you, you shoot the puck.”
Atkinson has also noticed a different Wennberg lately.
“It’s his confidence with and without the puck,” Atkinson said. “He’s demanding the puck and he’s dangerous when he grabs the puck and skates with it.”
Wennberg credited Atkinson for helping him find his game.
“We both wanted to play better,” Wennberg said. “We weren’t playing that great at the beginning of the season. Now, we are starting to feed off each other and make plays. We’re getting better and better. It’s good to have someone help you play better and the times have been really good lately.”
So far, it has not paid off as much on the scoresheet for Atkinson, but as the power play begins to find its groove, things should improve for him in that department.
2) Contributions From “All Over”
The power play started coming around for the Blue Jackets with two goals on the man advantage in their last two games.
That alone is a dramatic turnaround from the start of the season, where the Blue Jackets had a 9.7 percent success rate in their first 33 games.
Atkinson had a few reasons why the power play is becoming key to the Blue Jackets’ confidence, as well as making an impact on game results.
“We are keeping it simple and making plays when plays are there,” Atkinson said. “We’re not forcing anything. We’re getting pucks to the net and we’re shooting. It’s amazing when you shoot it, how many times you get the puck back.
“It’s also confidence,” Atkinson added. “I don’t know if before, if we were scared to make plays or just forcing plays. But now, when the play is there, we make it and get pucks to the net. We retrieve pucks after our shots and we’re being rewarded for it.”
Another area the Blue Jackets have seen increased contribution is from backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, who has found success as of late. Tortorella said his contributions have been key.
Joonas Korpisalo is 3-0 with a 1.95 and .939 in his last three starts. Huge boost for #CBJ if he can get more starts and play well.
— Mark Scheig (@markscheig) December 21, 2017
“The second goalie not only needs to play the games, he needs to win the games if we want to get to where we want to be in April,” Tortorella said. “Korpisalo has found his way here. And it’s hard—it’s hard for him because it’s very little work at certain times, and he’s been bounced back and forth to [the American Hockey League affiliate in] Cleveland. He’s a guy the players really pull for because they know he gets shoved around a little bit. I have always loved his mindset. Nothing bothers him. He just goes about his business.”
Additionally, the Blue Jackets’ fourth line scored the first goal of Wednesday’s game, which Atkinson said shifted the mood and momentum early.
“Any time you can get those guys contributing, it gets us pretty jacked up on the bench,” Atkinson said. It gave us all the momentum we needed to get things going [Wednesday].”
The Blue Jackets hope to keep the contributions coming from all sides before they head into the Christmas break.
Related – Blue Jackets’ 2017 Success Is Confusing
3) Regaining Their Confidence
After a rough past week by all accounts, the Blue Jackets unanimously said that a win over a tough Toronto team–who have been similar to the Blue Jackets in several ways over the past season-and-a-half, was a confidence booster.
Jones said it was key to get a win like this before the team heads to Pittsburgh on Thursday, and prior to the team’s short Christmas break.
“We needed to get our confidence back and it started with making simple plays,” Jones said.
Tortorella also said that the Blue Jackets should not be taken at face value in the six-day span prior to Wednesday’s win, where the team was 1-3-0, allowed 20 goals (including five on the power play for a 64 percent success rate on the penalty kill), and scored only 11 goals themselves.
“I do think we’re a good team,” Tortorella said. “I think this is a process, and the veterans have an opportunity to get us out of the jam we have. It’s an opportunity for us to try to get ourselves [better], and [Wednesday], we answered the proper way. It wasn’t ‘rah-rah.’ It was about us trying.”
Confidence is half the battle with young teams, and the Blue Jackets showed it Wednesday. When the team plays with confidence, good things happen. It is now up to them to have swagger and know they can win if they want to continue to have success.