Oliver Bjorkstrand had black-and-white proof that his game is improving in Tuesday night’s loss to Vancouver. That came in the form of a third-period goal, one that reclaimed the lead for the Blue Jackets at 2-1 midway through the third period.
It was his play away from the puck, though, that had led coach John Tortorella to keep him in the game as he shortened his bench. And it’s that still-growing part of Bjorkstrand’s game that will keep him there on Thursday night as Los Angeles comes to town and, he hopes, beyond.
“Be harder on the puck,” Tortorella said of his conversations with Bjorkstrand. “Be responsible when we don’t have the puck. With these offensive guys, Cheap Columbus Blue Jackets Jerseys I don’t want to turn them into a checker, but they also have to play that other part of the game. You can see there’s a little bit of desperation in his game because he wants to stay in the lineup.”
After playing in all 82 games last season and totaling 11 goals and 29 assists, Bjorkstrand was a healthy scratch for a four-game stretch in late November. Since returning to the lineup, he has two assists and Tuesday’s goal in his last six games.
He also got a shot of confidence, even as he hopes to start burying a few more chances.
“I think I’ve had some games now since I’ve gotten back in the lineup where I’ve been strong on the puck,” Bjorkstrand said Wednesday. ”(Tuesday) night I scored a goal so usually that seems different. I think I’ve been better at being strong on the puck, being consistent, moving my feet and all that.”
Listed at 6 feet and 177 pounds, Bjorkstrand will never be a physically imposing player on the ice. When it comes to checking more, as Tortorella has requested, Bjorkstrand said it’s more about winning battles and strong stick play than about launching himself at another player. Current linemate Boone Jenner, not known for shying away from contact, called him “smart, and hard on the puck.”
When players do that, “they end up having the puck more, and that puts us in an advantage as far as having our offensive people with the puck because they’ve checked,” Tortorella said. Against the Canucks, he said the Jackets had a 23-to-11 advantage in scoring chances and limited Vancouver to six five-on-five chances.
Bjorkstrand said he could feel the difference in his play compared to earlier in the season.
“I just wasn’t good enough in their opinion,” he said. “That’s obviously why I got scratched in some games. I learned from it and I try to be better. I never try to suck out there, that’s for sure. I feel like I’ve created more offense since I’ve been back.”
Now the job is for Bjorkstrand to do that more often. Tortorella described him as a deceptive shooter and a goal-scorer but one who can bring a complete game to the ice every night.
“When you see a player who can do it, why can’t I ask for that all the time?” he said. “This should be an everyday thing. It’s nothing incredible, it’s just playing the game the right way and he’s got to continue to do that.”