EDMONTON – Alright, yeah, yeah, it’s cold.
Ok, it’s not that bad. I’m being dramatic.
We kicked off this three-games-in-three-cities-in-two-provinces-in-four-days road trip on Monday morning with a 10 a.m. flight out of Columbus. Two hours later, we were on the ground in beautiful Fargo, N.D., so I can check it off the list of places I’ve actually been to that I never thought I would ever visit.
And 25 minutes later, after Blue Jackets Air got herself a healthy refueling, we were back in the air and en route to Edmonton, Alberta. I’ve been here before, kind of sort of, if you count the airport (which I do, kind of sort of) when I was trying to get to Vancouver as soon as possible for vacation.
The first thing I noticed on the bus ride from the airport to the hotel was “holy $#!%, the river is frozen solid.” And not just “we might be able to play a game of hockey here” solid, but like, you could possibly land an airplane on it.
I should have been wearing a sign that said “I’m American” because it was pretty obvious I’m not from around here. But I’m happy to report that I’m a fan of Edmonton. It’s perfectly Canadian.
Like when I went outside to take a photo of Rexall Place and a nice gentleman asked me: "Hey there bahd, are the Oilers still on the ice?"
"I have no idea. Maybe?"
"Alright thanks, bahd - cheers!"
Just like I dreamt it.
Oh, something else: our team hotel has a resident dog named Smudge. And Smudge also has a statue of himself inside the hotel lobby, for those times when you’re wondering if this particular hotel has a resident dog.
I’m hoping Smudge and Torts get to meet at some point before we leave.
After getting settled at the hotel, we headed to Rexall Place for an afternoon practice (4 p.m. local time). It’s cool for me to be on this particular trip and see the Blue Jackets’ final game in this building, because it’s one of the NHL’s most iconic. You see the banners in the rafters, the Wayne Gretzky statue out front and get the generally old-school vibe of the place, and you know you’re in a special rink.
And now, for the first of (hopefully) a few installments: FOOD REVIEW.
We had dinner at the Craft Beer Market downtown Edmonton, a few blocks from our hotel. Not only do they have 100 craft beers on tap but they have some really weird stuff on the menu, and I’m all about the weird stuff.
Exhibit A: fast food sushi.
It’s basically a cheeseburger and fries – cooked, mind you – wrapped in bacon and topped with pickles and jalapeno cream cheese, served like sushi.
Stand down, skeptics, because it’s ridiculously good.
Over the next few days, I’ll check back in and give you an inside look at life on the road. Hope this blog, and its subsequent mention of cheeseburger sushi, didn’t ruin it for you already.
It has certainly been a tough-luck season on the injury front for Sergei Bobrovsky.
A groin injury suffered Dec. 8 vs. Los Angeles (in the final minutes of regulation) caused him to miss the next 17 games, and in that span, he went through a setback that delayed his return date beyond initial three-week diagnosis.
And in his second game back from that injury, he was forced to leave the game with a lower body injury. Joonas Korpisalo took over from that point and made 12 saves in relief.
Bobrovsky had played 31:30 of the Blue Jackets' 4-2 loss to Calgary before departing. He did not return, was not on the bench and if he is out for any amount of time, the Blue Jackets will be recalling a goaltender (likely Anton Forsberg) from the Lake Erie Monsters on Friday.
Scott Hartnell is back in the Blue Jackets’ lineup tonight after sitting out Tuesday’s game as a healthy scratch.
If you’ll recall, Hartnell was the cause of a too many men on the ice penalty in the third period of Saturday’s game against Colorado, a penalty the Blue Jackets managed to kill off in a 1-1 game that they eventually won late in regulation.
On Monday, Hartnell addressed his teammates at the end of practice and apologized for the penalty. It compounded his recent frustration with not contributing offensively, but his coach doesn’t want him to change a thing when he gets back in tonight.
Well, maybe not change, but curb the discipline a bit.
“I don’t want a different Scott Hartnell,” Tortorella said this morning.
John Tortorella has spoken on numerous occasions about building a culture of accountability – “it’s a nice word to use in the summer time,” he says – but certain moments throughout a season reinforce it naturally.
In the third period of Saturday night’s game against Colorado, Scott Hartnell was involved in a skirmish/exchange of words near the Avalanche bench, causing him to be late to the bench on a line change. The Blue Jackets were called for a too many men on the ice penalty, sending Colorado on the power play in a 1-1 game.
Tortorella didn’t like it and Hartnell didn’t play the rest of that game. Today, near the end of practice, Hartnell owned it.
With the team doing its end-of-practice stretch at center ice, Hartnell stood up and apologized to the group, and Tortorella was the first to start banging his stick on the ice in appreciation before the rest of the team followed suit.
With a surplus of defensemen on their roster, the Blue Jackets needed to make a move.
That move came yesterday when they placed Kevin Connauton on waivers. He did not make it through waivers, however, with the Arizona Coyotes claiming him on Wednesday. So now, the Blue Jackets are down to eight defensemen and have an open spot on their 23-player active roster.
Connauton was a healthy scratch on Tuesday night in Brooklyn and had appeared in 27 games for the Blue Jackets this season (one goal, seven assists and a +10 rating). In his first season with Columbus a year ago, the 25-year-old Edmonton native scored nine goals in 54 games after being claimed on waivers from Dallas.
“It looks like a beautiful building,” John Tortorella said of the Barclays Center this morning.
“It’s a pain in the ass to get here.”
He was half-joking, of course (or was he?), after the Blue Jackets wrapped up a morning meeting and prepared for their first-ever game in the new home of the New York Islanders, a Metropolitan Division team with which they’ve brewed a subtly-intriguing rivalry.
The last two meetings in particular have been feisty affairs, the latest a 3-2 overtime win for the Islanders at Nationwide Arena on Dec. 12. The Blue Jackets fought back to force overtime before giving up a 2-on-0 break in sudden death, leaving poor Curtis McElhinney to fend for himself against Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo.
Zach Werenski had a World Junior tournament that he'll never forget.
The only thing missing, of course, was a gold medal.
But his American team, of which he was named captain shortly before the tournament began, picked itself up after a crushing semifinal loss to Russia and dominated Sweden in the bronze medal game. They wanted to go out as winners, and with an 8-3 victory, they did just that -- and Werenski lead the way.
He was one of Ron Wilson's most relied-upon players, sometimes logging over 30 minutes per game in all situations, and in some games it felt as though he never left the ice. At both ends of the rink, Werenski was impressive, showing the patience, poise and creativity that he was known for when the Blue Jackets selected him No. 8 overall in 2015.
PITTSBURGH – Just another showdown between the Blue Jackets and the Penguins, and just another day filled with newsworthy items.
Those two are, in fact, interconnected.
We covered the possibility of both team captains (Nick Foligno and Sidney Crosby) missing tonight’s game due to injury and that possibility is now fact. Mike Sullivan and John Tortorella – two very good friends and longtime coworkers – each confirmed the absence of their captain for tonight’s game at CONSOL Energy Center.
And while those are two significant absences for two teams looking to gain some traction before the holiday break, both the Blue Jackets and Penguins have to move by it and follow the old “worry about who’s here” mantra.
PITTSBURGH -- Both the Blue Jackets and Penguins may be without their respective captains for Monday’s clash at CONSOL Energy Center.
Nick Foligno did not practice on Sunday afternoon at Nationwide Arena and is considered questionable. On the Penguins side, Sidney Crosby was absent from their Sunday skate and coach Mike Sullivan told reporters that Crosby is day-to-day with a lower body injury.
Sullivan added that Crosby suffered the injury during the third period of Pittsburgh’s 2-1 loss to Carolina on Saturday night, while Tortorella told media Foligno was “nicked up” during Saturday’s game against the Flyers.
The latest installment of this budding Metropolitan Division rivalry has plenty of stuff going on, beginning with the Blue Jackets and their continued search for consistency.