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Identity Crisis: Finding a Personality for the Columbus Blue Jackets

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It’s been a rocky road through the first 12 games

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After an entertaining overtime Columbus Blue Jackets win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, coach John Tortorella fielded several questions regarding the “personality” of players and the team. The CBJ have played 12 games after last night, just about 15 percent of the season. The Blue Jackets boast some wonderful personalities off the ice, but the team’s personality as a whole needs work if they want to make some hay in the playoffs.

Saturday’s third period stuck in Tortorella’s craw. Despite a game filled with back-and-forth action and a spectacular OT winner from Artemi Panarin, the coach couldn’t get past a sluggish final frame that allowed the Sabres to claw back and tie the game.

“I like the team. I think we’re beginning to show more personality,” he said in the postgame press conference. “But you just never know. It’s a box of chocolates. You just know never know what you’re gonna get from shift to shift at certain times. I guess that’s just what the game is.”

Remember how bad this team was in the second period to start the season? The Blue Jackets were outscored 8-2 in the second period through the first four games and that’s saying nothing about shots. It took the fifth game before they outscored an opponent in the second, and those two goals were the only ones they scored in an 8-2 loss at Tampa Bay.

They now seem to have the second period under control, but have struggled to put together a full 60 minutes. It’s a tough thing to do in the NHL, but a delivering a complete game is the hallmark of a great team.

It does seem odd that a professional hockey club that has qualified for the playoffs two years in a row and underwent minimal roster turnover hasn’t yet found an identity it can carry from night to night.

Following Tuesday’s stinker against Detroit, Tortorella offered some choice words on 97.1 The Fan’s Carpenter & Rothman:

“Our starts have been awful,” Tortorella said. “We’ve chased games all year long.”

Last night? The team won 4-1 against a preseason Stanley Cup contender on the road, but needed Sergei Bobrovsky to stand on his head as it was outshot and outchanced in the third period (shot danger is a separate discussion, and probably one worth having, but not right here).

Tortorella pegged starts and special teams as particular bugaboos for the club right now. The special teams struggles have been well-documented and still boggle the mind given the amount of talent the team can throw out there on any given advantage.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Playing a full 60 minutes? That’s a different matter, and it’s one that probably plagues every club from time to time. As one of the radio hosts mentioned, the Blue Jackets are lucky it’s early in the season to encounter these issues (although you would think it’d be easier to play the same way for an entire game during the first month of the season).

The coaching staff swapped out skill (Sonny Milano and Dean Kukan, namely) for grit (Markus Hännikäinen and Scott Harrington) last week to try and get the team to play “the right way.” A couple of wins sandwich Tuesday’s ragged effort, though maybe icing one of the worst defenders in the league isn’t the way forward.

Rumors of a “country club” atmosphere dogged this franchise years ago and hiring a firebrand like Tortorella to run the ship was supposed to help fix that. By and large, it has: the CBJ earned a reputation around the league the past couple of years as a team that’s “tough to play against” with a ton of wins to their credit.

Maybe we eventually point to last night as a turning point for the club. Maybe they needed to get away from this time zone (they’ve been awful at home) and play on a Thursday (they’re 5-0 on Thursdays this year) to play a complete effort. Maybe they need Sergei Bobrovsky to steal games again. Maybe they need AKbax there every game.

Tortorella mentioned he doesn’t want to be a safe team. That’s the goal for the Blue Jackets personality; one that’s not safe and plays a physical style to win games. Last night was a good start. Tortorella, regarding the 4-1 win:

“We probably played our best game away from the puck,” he said. “All in all, I thought everybody contributed.”

Back-to-back West Coast games fresh off a victory will test this team’s mettle. Perhaps this weekend will be the chance to show off some personality.