When the Blue Jackets acquired Sergei Bobrovsky this summer, they hoped for an all-out battle between he and Steve Mason for the No. 1 goaltending spot in training camp. They now have that competition.
Todd Richards said he figured Bobrovsky -- who won 16 of 24 games in a starting role in Russia's KHL during the lockout, including one of the league's best goals-against averages -- would come into camp as the sharper of the two netminders, and after a few days of practice, Mason would catch up.
To this point, the goaltending situation has transpired pretty much how he'd anticipated, but Richards knows there is a long road ahead before anything is settled.
In the first three days of Blue Jackets Training Camp presented by OhioHealth, the pace has been high and there's been virtually no slowing down for a team that wants to make sure it's ready for its season opener in four days.
Usually that means a lot of pucks coming the goalie's way, and both Mason and Bobrovsky have shown well in the first set of practices.
The big storyline coming out of today's practice was the intrasquad scrimmage, but before and after, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards got some valuable special teams work in with his players.
As several players pointed out, special teams practice can never be repeated enough in the NHL where power plays and penalty kills are so often the difference between two points and coming away empty-handed. The best teams in hockey have the best special teams, and the Blue Jackets are trying to squeeze as much work in as they can before Saturday's season opener in Nashville.
With a lot of new faces in the room, the systems and detail work is crucial because some coaches speak in different tongues with regard to power play and penalty killing philosophies, Richards said.
"The power play, for the new guys coming in, is really going to be completely new," Richards said. "Nick Foligno was in Ottawa and their coach talks the same way we talk, so it’ll be a little easier adjustment. I think based on what systems we’re teaching, for some guys it’s a bit easier and for others it’s completely different and takes some time.
"This is going to be an ongoing thing. You’re always looking to improve your team and the areas you could be better at. The players are working hard at it and I think we’ve gotten better, but we still have a ways to go."
Welcome back to our LIVE blog on BlueJackets.com for the third day of Blue Jackets Training Camp presented by OhioHealth! The team is scheduled to hit the ice at Nationwide Arena in the next 30 minutes, and we'll have all the updates from practice as they happen.
To recap yesterday: the lines were jumbled a little bit, with Ryan Johansen moving up to center Nick Foligno and Vinny Prospal. Also, Derek MacKenzie moved back to center between Matt Calvert and Jared Boll. Boone Jenner skated between Colton Gillies and Mark Letestu for most of yesterday's practice.
The defense pairings saw Tim Erixon and Adrian Aucoin skate together, and John Moore paired up with David Savard. Other pairings stayed intact (Jack Johnson-James Wisniewski and Fedor Tyutin-Nikita Nikitin).
You can find live updates from practice inside this blog post throughout the day.
We started the morning session in the OhioHealth Ice Haus and saw the team go through a 45-minute practice, mostly a refresher from Sunday's system work designed to get the legs going again. There was some breakout work, focusing on the details of who retrieves the puck and how the forwards move the puck through the neutral zone -- all things that a transition team like the Blue Jackets need to have down pat.
After the first part of practice, Todd Richards moved the group on the main ice at Nationwide Arena for the first time this season. Unlike the up-tempo morning practice, the afternoon consisted of much more teaching and structural review. Backchecking assignments, defensive zone coverage, face-off scenarios in all three zones, and a lot more.
It's kind of like going over a syllabus on the first day of classes: here's what's expected, let's learn it once and then move forward together.
Some of the line combinations from Sunday remained the same and some changed, but that's exactly what Richards indicated. The short window for training camp means that NHL teams aren't going to get precisely what they're looking for in terms of chemistry, etc., but they will have to make the most of the time afforded to them.
Allow me to empty the notebook after Day 2 (full analysis inside the blog post).
One of the drawbacks to a shortened training camp is limited time to develop chemistry among line mates -- and especially so on a team with several new faces.
The Blue Jackets are one of those teams and Nick Foligno is one of those newcomers, but like his teammates, he's trying to make the most of a hectic schedule this week in preparation for the season opener on Saturday night in Nashville. When Blue Jackets Training Camp presented by OhioHealth opened yesterday, Foligno was slotted on one of three "scoring lines" iced by head coach Todd Richards.
Mark Letestu, who came over last season in a trade with Pittsburgh, centered the line and veteran Vinny Prospal played the right side. With Letestu's face-off skills, the trio started with the puck a lot and was able to get some chances going off the rush in drills, but like many players admitted afterward, the likelihood of all the lines staying intact was slim.
And sure enough, there were changes this morning.
Foligno remained with Prospal in today's practice but Ryan Johansen moved up to center the line, and Richards got a good look at a young player trying to make an impact in just his second NHL season.
The two veterans on the line have never played together in previous NHL stops, but Foligno said he would welcome the chance to play with Prospal if that's how the season began.
"Vinny’s a really good player and he’s played in this league at a high level for a long time," Foligno told BlueJackets.com after practice today. "He’s proven himself year in and year out. He works so hard and he’s a blast to play with. You can see how much fun he has when he plays, and it's contagious.
During his five-year stint with Ottawa Senators, Foligno played all three forward positions including extended time at both left and right wing. He has played exclusively on the left wing the past two days, but if change is warranted, he is willing and comfortable with playing either side.
Foligno put up 47 points (15 goals, 32 assists) with the Senators a year ago while getting ice time on both wings and at center, so change isn't something he's too concerned with.
"I’m more than happy to play whatever position they need me to play," Foligno said. "My job is to go out there, play well and try to produce offensively, and be smart in the defensive zone, too. It’s about playing a solid all-around game, and I plan on doing that."
One aspect that Foligno and the Blue Jackets have keyed on the past two days is puck possession and managing the game. Richards said defense and checking have been focal points, and also making sure they are dictating the pace.
Winning face-offs is a big part of controlling the game, Foligno said, and he's certain it will be an item on the agenda throughout the season for several teams around the NHL.
"Puck possession is so big in this game now," he said. "It’s all about how quickly you can get from defense to offense and get your transition game going. The best teams do it quickly and it seems like they have the puck the whole games sometimes.
"I’m excited with how we’re going to play. I think it’s an exciting way to play the game and it’ll bode well for us this season."
We're back at it for Day 2 of Blue Jackets training camp presented by OhioHealth, and I'm anticipating a host of new story lines today after an exciting first session on Sunday. I'll have live updates here throughout the morning as the players go through drills, and I hope to provide some analysis along the way.
While we wait for the players to hit the ice (practice starts at 10:30 a.m. in the OhioHealth Ice Haus, and it's free and open to the public), you can check out Todd Richards' media scrum yesterday in the video above.
I also have some story links from yesterday's coverage if you need to catch up (inside the blog post). Follow this post all day long for all the information about practice before, during, and after the session wraps up.
What a day.
Back in the OhioHealth Ice Haus, a full house, tons of energy and excitement...it was pretty much everything one could ask for as Training Camp presented by OhioHealth kicked off this afternoon. Think the Blue Jackets players were fired up? You couldn't help but notice the ear-to-ear smiles on their faces as they stepped on the ice.
They're happy to be back, and to a man, ready to make the most of the six-day training camp and embark on a wild ride we call the NHL season. Todd Richards kicked things off with a nice speech to the crowd and promptly put his players through a detail-oriented practice aimed at getting everyone on the same page.
I covered this in an earlier blog post, but as I "empty the notebook" after today's practice, I'll go through the forward lines and defense pairings once more...
FORWARDS: Umberger-Brassard-Atkinson, Dubinsky-Anisimov-Dorsett, Prospal-Letestu-Foligno, MacKenzie-Jenner-Boll, Gillies-Johansen-Calvert
DEFENSE: Tyutin-Nikitin, Johnson-Wisniewski, Moore-Aucoin, Erixon-Savard
GOALIES: Bobrovsky, Mason
Let's dive right into it -- here are my observations from an entertaining first day of camp...
He walked into his new locker room for the first time with the full group of his new teammates, put his equipment on piece-by-piece and marched down the hallway into the OhioHealth Ice Haus where he heard over 1,200 fans chanting "let's go Jackets" before the players even stepped foot on the ice.
Coming from the New York Rangers -- where practices are typically closed to the public -- hearing the ovation from hundreds of feet away was a surreal experience.
"It was awesome to see all the fans and get a first taste of the support we get here in Columbus," Dubinsky said. "It was pretty special and all the boys were excited about it.
I was sort of walking out (on the ice) and I heard them chanting and I was like, what’s going on out there? And then I walk out there and it was packed."
The familiarity started by lining up for his first official Blue Jackets drill on the left wing of Artem Anisimov, who came over with Dubinsky from the Rangers in the Rick Nash trade back in July. On the right side of their line was Derek Dorsett, one of the club's emerging young leaders and an honest player that empties the cupboard every night.