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The young Blue Jackets, with a ‘new culture,’ are the NHL’s biggest surprise

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are the latest proof that the NHL is a young man’s game.

The Jackets won their ninth in a row Sunday in Vancouver, giving head coach John Tortorella his 500th career win. It has been a dramatic turnaround for this team that finished 2015-16 with the league’s fourth-worst record. So far this season, Columbus is 20-5-4 and boasts the NHL’s highest points percentage, the best offense, the second-best goals-against, and the best power play.

“When I came halfway through last year, things were already pretty south,” said defenseman Seth Jones, the overtime hero against the Canucks. “But this year, it definitely feels like a different atmosphere, new culture. We have an identity this year, which is something we need.”

Jones, 22, is just one of the talented youngsters on the squad. His dynamic defensive partner, Zach Werenski, is the youngest at 19. Meanwhile, Alexander Wennberg is still only 22, Boone Jenner 23, and Brandon Saad 24. Even some of the veterans aren’t that old. Brandon Dubinsky only turned 30 in April, Nick Foligno and Jack Johnson are 29, Sergei Bobrovsky is 28, and Cam Atkinson just 27.

“I think we’re a pretty good hockey team right now,” said Jones. “We can’t get too ahead of ourselves, but for years to come, we have 22-, 23-, 24-year-olds on this team that are going to be pretty special players in this league.”

It was suggested to Tortorella that having such a young, impressionable team has made it easier to get his message across.

Read more: Jackets are far better fit for Torts than Canucks

After all, this is the same coach who failed so spectacularly in his one year with the veteran-laden, “stale” Canucks.

But he wasn’t buying that theory.

“It’s easy to get buy-in when you have some success, and we’ve had some success early on here,” said Tortorella. “I don’t think it’s ever young or old, I think it’s how you sell it, how you communicate with your team. I think with different personnel, you may be communicating differently. That’s part of our job, that’s one of the biggest chores of our job, as a coaching staff, is how you get to them, how you make them understand what we’re looking to happen here.”

To be sure, it has been a process for Tortorella, who took over early last season and did not have immediate success. The Jackets went a modest 34-33-8 under his watch, and he lashed out at times, saying things like, “I see weakness. I think we’re weak mentally, and it’s not the kids. I worry about the kids getting into bad habits by watching other people.”

What does he see today?

“We’ve got some good leadership that I think is growing,” he said. “It was one of my points of contention last year, I don’t think we had leadership in doing it the right way and raising the standard. I think everybody has their finger in the pie right now, not just the coaches, but all the players too.”

The Jackets return home for three tough games before the Christmas break. Tuesday it’s Los Angeles, Thursday it’s Pittsburgh, and Friday’s it’s Montreal.

The second half of the season may be more of a challenge for Tortorella and his charges, because the way things are going, the days of taking this team for granted are gone.

Jets’ Enstrom undergoes second knee surgery in 12 months

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There’s not much left for Winnipeg to play for — just five regular-season games left, and no playoffs on the horizon — so today’s news that Tobias Enstrom has undergone season-ending knee surgery isn’t a crippling development.

Can’t be good, though.

Enstrom’s had a difficult year health-wise and, at the time of surgery, was dealing with a concussion suffered on a Tom Sestito hit back in early March. Prior to that, he missed time while attending to a family matter in his native Sweden and, prior to that, was shut down late last season to undergo knee surgery.

It’s unclear if today’s procedure was related to the one Enstrom had last March.

It is worth noting that, at the time of last year’s surgery, head coach Paul Maurice noted the 32-year-old had been dealing with the injury for months.

“He’s been able to get through it because of blocks of days off. If he can get a two day block, he’d get a little better and it’s just getting worse,” Maurice said, per Global News. “It got to the point that he’s not recovering and he hasn’t been. He hasn’t been for almost a month now. He’s not recovering enough on his days off for the pain ever to subside.”

All told, Enstrom appeared in 60 games this year, scoring 14 points while averaging just under 22 minutes per night. Next season will be the last of a five-year, $28.75 million deal that carries a $5.75 million cap hit.

Lundqvist will start four of five remaining games

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Henrik Lundqvist has had two tough starts since returning from injury.

The 35-year-old allowed five goals in his first game back, a 6-3 loss to Anaheim Sunday, and five more in his second game, a 5-4 OT loss to San Jose Tuesday.

But Lundqvist is still the No. 1 in New York, and for that reason he’s scheduled to start four of the Rangers’ five remaining regular-season games, with the hope he’ll be able to play his way back into form in time for the postseason.

Lundqvist was not happy after Tuesday’s loss to the Sharks, even though the point the Rangers gained earned them a playoff berth.

“I’m extremely disappointed right now,” he told reporters. “I’m glad we’re in, but I want to get the job done. I want the win. We found a way to lose this one at the end.”

With the loss, Lundqvist’s save percentage fell to .911 on the season. If it finishes at that number, it would be the lowest save percentage of his NHL career.

Antti Raanta‘s save percentage, meanwhile, sits at .922. In his last start, he shut out the Kings in Los Angeles.

The Rangers host Pittsburgh tomorrow and Philadelphia Sunday. Next week, they’re in Washington Wednesday, Ottawa Saturday, and then they close out their schedule at home to Pittsburgh Sunday.

Raanta will start one of the final two games.

The Rangers are likely to face Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.

Reinhart suggests benching was a stretch

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Two days after Sam Reinhart was bolted to the pine for the entirety of Buffalo’s 3-1 loss to Columbus — his punishment for showing up late to a team stretch — Reinhart discussed the incident, and didn’t sound overly thrilled about how it played out.

“It’s a coach’s decision. It’s a management decision,” Reinhart said, per the Buffalo News. “From my perspective, I would have rather battled it out with my teammates.

“I don’t think five minutes in the morning is going to influence my preparation for a game, but it was a team stretch and I should have been there on time.”

Reinhart also had this to say:

Discipline of this nature is pretty common, though the way Reinhart’s played out was a bit more dramatic. Rather than park him in the press box as a healthy scratch, the Sabres — who didn’t have an extra forward, as Kyle Okposo was out sick — dressed the 21-year-old, then sat him for the entire 60 minutes.

The Buffalo News said the move “would seem to send a deeper message than merely being scratch,” adding that “there has been friction between players and [Sabres head coach Dan] Bylsma throughout the season.”

In the club’s defense, Reinhart is hardly the first young player to be punished for lateness. Nikita Zadorov had repeated issues with punctuality and, after being suspended, was eventually traded to Colorado. Evander Kane was parked for a game last season after sleeping in and missing a practice.

Of course, each situation is unique and some will argue showing up five minutes late for a stretch isn’t on par with what Zadorov and Kane did. Which is fair. That could be why Bylsma said the club might consider a policy change.

And that could by why Reinhart’s teammate, Jack Eichel, tried to put things in perspective.

“We’re obviously not going to hold it over his head here,” Eichel said, per the News. “He didn’t really do too much wrong.”

North Dakota’s Poolman turns pro, signs with Jets

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Another day, another North Dakota departure.

Having already lost freshman Tyson Jost (signed with Colorado) and sophomore Brock Boeser (signed with Vancouver), the school has now learned that junior blueliner Tucker Poolman has signed an entry-level deal with the Jets.

Poolman, 23, was taken by Winnipeg in the fifth round (127th overall) at the ’13 draft. From the Free Press:

UND’s top defenceman was playing between 25 and 30 minutes per game and was the fourth-highest scoring blue-liner in the NCHC. He finished the season with seven goals, 30 points, 14 penalty minutes and a plus-18 rating in 38 games.

Poolman’s final campaign ended on a sour note. He suffered a shoulder injury during the NCHC championship game and was unable to play in North Dakota’s season-ending loss to Boston University in the NCAA championships.