Quite a test on deck for the Blue Jackets tonight in Anaheim, perhaps their most difficult to date this season.
The Ducks are 11-2-1 and just won five of six games on their 11-day road trip, and trail only the Chicago Blackhawks in points for top spot in the entire NHL. Headlining the hot start for Anaheim has been 30-year-old rookie goaltender Viktor Fasth, who's 8-0-0 and wrestled the starting job from incumbent Jonas Hiller, who struggled to open the season.
Bruce Boudreau has the Ducks playing a high-tempo, north-south style of hockey that hockey fans embraced when he coached the Washington Capitals. It's non-stop, relentless pressure and it comes from all four lines; free-agent pickup Daniel Winnik is playing bottom six minutes for Anaheim but has five goals and nine points in the club's first 14 games. Everyone contributes in Boudreau's system and that's exactly what the Ducks have received to this point: contributions up and down the lineup.
There are many things the Blue Jackets will have to do better tonight than they did Saturday if a win is in the cards; they traded chances with the Coyotes and got into a shoot-em-up style of game that featured a lot of penalties and little to no flow.
Catch tonight's "three keys" to success for the Blue Jackets inside this blog post.
ON TO THE NEXT ONE: Good morning, and happy Presidents' Day to you all! Thanks for joining this holiday edition of the BlueJackets.com game day blog. We're a couple hours away from the team taking the ice for their morning skate at the Honda Center, but there's plenty to cover in the meantime.
Here's what we know: the Ducks are riding a four-game winning streak and are sitting at 23 points (11-2-1), closing in on the Chicago Blackhawks and the top spot in the NHL. Teemu Selanne (15 points) and Saku Koivu (14) lead the Ducks in scoring, and they're plenty an uptempo, in-your-face brand of hockey under second-year coach Bruce Boudreau.
Let's have a little fun to kick off today's blog, shall we? Maybe you've heard of the "Harlem Shake"...it's kind of a thing right now. With the help of Stinger, we put our own Blue Jackets twist on it:
One of the things Todd Richards mentioned after last night's game was the Blue Jackets spending far too much time inside their own zone and losing their style of play. It disrupted their flow and prevented them from generating and sustaining a consistent attack, and with only eight shots on goal after 40 minutes, it was easy to see why.
They saw what happens when they're on form: game tape from Edmonton and San Jose is clear evidence of that. They can overwhelm opponents and get them back on their heels with forechecking and puck pressure, two things that were not a big part of their game last night in Los Angeles.
It's time to turn the page, though, and another game awaits in just a few hours. The Phoenix Coyotes are another one of those big, physical Western Conference teams that provide a complete test of your game, and the Blue Jackets are going to need a stronger effort tonight if they want two points in Glendale.
Steve Mason is the starting goalie for the Blue Jackets this evening and he's likely to face Mike Smith on the Phoenix side. A few lineup changes for Columbus: Artem Anisimov will not play tonight after taking a slap shot off the boot last night, so Nick Drazenovic gets a chance to show what he can do. Cody Goloubef is a likely scratch in favor of the now-healthy John Moore, who will also return tonight.
Let's proceed with the "three keys" to success for the Blue Jackets, inside this blog post.
START YOUR (BLOG) ENGINE: Good afternoon and, as we always say on this blog, happy game day! The Blue Jackets are right back at it in just a few hours, taking on the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale. Following last night's 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in which the Blue Jackets admittedly didn't play their best game, perhaps the perfect tonic is getting back on the ice less than 24 hours later.
Phoenix has had its struggles so far this season, but Dave Tippett's club always comes ready to play and they'll be a motivated group tonight. Expect Mike Smith between the pipes for the Coyotes.
There will be some lineup changes for Columbus and we'll cover those as the day progresses. Keep it tuned to the blog and Jackets TV for all the updates and player interviews from Glendale.
From the drop of the puck, this game had a weird feel to it.
It was almost as if momentum was hanging somewhere above the ice surface at STAPLES Center, waiting for either the Blue Jackets or Kings to step up and grab it. Instead, both teams played ping-pong with it and sent it back each other's way throughout the game, creating spurts of energy from both sides but overall it was a physical game that lacked consistency.
The Blue Jackets had a solid road period in the first 20 minutes but couldn't get many shots at Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier, and the Kings had the better of the play in the second period and got a late-stages goal from Kyle Clifford to make it 1-0. Columbus had only eight shots on goal through two periods and not many quality looks at Bernier, making it difficult for them to claw back into the hockey game.
Columbus got into some penalty trouble, too, and at an inopportune time. Jared Boll got a roughing penalty at the buzzer in the second period, and 48 seconds later, Fedor Tyutin held up one of the Kings to set up a lengthy 5-on-3. Mike Richards capitalized, sending a centering pass of Nikita Nikitin's boot and behind Sergei Bobrovsky for a 2-0 lead early in the third period.
With a game in Phoenix less than 20 hours away, it's time for the Blue Jackets to take the lessons from this game and get ready for their next test.
Check out the full breakdown of tonight's game inside this blog post.
Seems like it's been a while since the Blue Jackets played a game, but that can be both a blessing and a curse in this shortened NHL season. Most teams have found a groove with travel and game schedules but every now and then there will be an awkward break in the action -- and it's no different than what the Los Angeles Kings are facing, as well.
The Kings, like the Blue Jackets, last played Monday night and, like the Blue Jackets, won their most recent game. That's far too many commas in one sentence for me but I'll make an exception...just this once. Is there such thing as momentum in a game like this? I tend to think not, as it's more of a reset and clean slate game than anything.
After a travel day on Wednesday, the Blue Jackets have had some time to get settled in Los Angeles and had a good practice on Thursday afternoon in El Segundo. Todd Richards liked the pace and intensity of the skate following a couple days off, and after some time studying game tapes, thinks his club is on the cusp of assembling its parts on a consistent basis.
Here's the brief recap on today's events: Adrian Aucoin draws back into the lineup after missing six games with a lower body injury, and Sergei Bobrovsky starts in net for Columbus. Jonathan Bernier, who has a 1-1-0 lifetime record against the Blue Jackets, gets the call for the Kings.Get tonight's "three keys" to success inside this blog post.
GETTING IT STARTED: Everyone ready for game day, late-night style? The Blue Jackets are in Los Angeles to take on the Kings tonight at STAPLES Center, and it should be a dandy. I'm a big fan of this budding rivalry and it starts with these two clubs simply not liking each other a whole lot. Last week's game at Nationwide Arena was a bit snarly and had a good edge to it, and I expect more of the same tonight in SoCal.
There's plenty to get caught up on this afternoon, and the team has just wrapped up its morning skate. Stay tuned to the blog for all the latest news, interviews and updates throughout the afternoon and evening.
Jarmo Kekalainen knows exactly what has helped him reach this point in his career, and he's not about to deviate for the sake of change.
He will often joke that his NHL playing career wasn't anything to brag about, playing 55 games over five years and accumulating 13 points in the process. But his goal has never been about individual achievement or recognition -- he simply wants to win the Stanley Cup.
Since he was never able to fulfill that dream as a professional hockey player, the next opportunity came while wearing a suit and tie. He joined the Ottawa Senators' front office in 1999 after spending four years with IFK Helsinki and it was there, in Canada's capital city, that he discovered a strong passion for being a manager in the NHL.
His drafts in Ottawa were highly productive; names such as Jason Spezza, Chris Phillips, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Ray Emery, Brooks Laich and Sami Salo were Kekalainen draft recommendations, and year after year, the man just seemed to deliver. When he was hired as the assistant general manger and head of amateur scouting in St. Louis in 2002, it was a new challenge and situation, but Kekalainen did not stray from what made him successful in Ottawa.
Now the general manager and a key member of the Blue Jackets hockey operations department -- a "very important brick," as John Davidson called him -- Kekalainen has the resume to build on what's he has done before and is faced with a similar scenario right off the bat: the Blue Jackets own three first-round picks in this year's NHL draft, as did the Blues in 2007.Read the rest of the story behind Kekalainen's draft success inside this blog post.
John Davidson has said that a player's nationality will never dictate his status or how he's viewed, and this morning, he felt the same about his new general manager.
After two years spent as GM of Jokerit in Finland, Jarmo Kekalainen agreed to become the next GM of the Blue Jackets yesterday. Davidson said he and Kekalainen first discussed the job a few days ago, and once interest appeared mutual, the progression was fairly rapid. The 46-year-old brings almost two decades of hockey managerial experience to Columbus and has served in hockey operations capacities for both the Ottawa Senators and St. Louis Blues, and was the assistant GM under Davidson in St. Louis.
The Finnish-born Kekalainen is the first European GM in the nearly 100-year history of the NHL, and while it's a historic day for both Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets, Davidson said one look at the resume tells you that it wouldn't have mattered what his last name is.
"He's a loyal, honest and character-filled man," Davidson said. "He's ready and confident...he has one heck of a resume. You try to have an open mind with everything in this world of hockey. It's a wonderful world."
Read the full story inside this blog post.
Armed with three first-round picks in this year's NHL draft and expressing a desire to build the Blue Jackets through player development, it should come as no surprise that John Davidson hired a general manager who fits the bill almost perfectly.
During a six-year tenure in St. Louis, Davidson worked hand-in-hand with Jarmo Kekalainen, who was named as the third general manager in Blue Jackets history this morning. The 46-year-old native of Tampere, Finland, is a somewhat historic hire in that he's the first full-time European-born GM in NHL history.
Kekalainen played 55 NHL games with the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators between 1989-1994 before retiring and jumping into front office work. He was a natural, and many around the league believe he's one of the top talent evaluators in the business. Alongside Davidson in St. Louis (and working with the Blues beginning in 2002), Kekalainen helped rebuild an organization which had a dry talent pipeline and turned it into one brimming with bright young talent, with names like David Perron, David Backes, TJ Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo forming the Blues' nucleus.
In Columbus, Kekalainen will be taking on a similar task and it's almost fitting to be doing so with his former boss in St. Louis. This upcoming draft has been described as "huge" and "crucial" for the Blue Jackets by Davidson, and with what is considered to be a deep draft class, the opportunity is there for Kekalainen and staff to build considerable depth.
“Hockey is a truly global game and there are very few people whose knowledge of the game in North America and abroad surpasses that of Jarmo Kekalainen,” Davidson said in a statement. “He is intelligent, hard-working and a tremendous evaluator of talent. He is a terrific addition to the Blue Jackets family and will play an important role in our efforts to move our organization forward in the coming years.”
After retirement from pro hockey in 1995, Kekalainen returned to his native Finland to serve as GM of IFK Helsinki until 1999. He was hired by the Senators as player personnel director and is credited with recommendations to draft Martin Havlat and Marian Hossa, two of Ottawa's cornerstone players in the mid-2000s.
Before accepting the job as Blue Jackets GM, Kekalainen held the same position was Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League and had the club in a solid first-place standing.