No morning skate today for the Blue Jackets, who get right back on the horse tonight against one of the best teams in the stacked Central Division.
You know them well, of course. The Nashville Predators are old friends of Columbus from the former Central Division days. There were some wicked, confrontational battles between these clubs when they met eight times per season (though I think the Blue Jackets are glad they don’t have to make four visits to Bridgestone Arena anymore…that was their house of horrors).
It’s been a long week for the Predators having not played since Tuesday night, when they beat the Anaheim Ducks on home ice before getting a brief respite. The Blue Jackets have had no such luxury, having played last night and are currently in the midst of a three-in-four spurt that concludes Sunday at Nationwide Arena against the San Jose Sharks.
Here’s what we know so far: Pekka Rinne is expected to start in goal for Nashville. He’s always played well against Columbus, so it’s not much of a surprise if he ends getting the nod from Peter Laviolette.
Shortly before hopping on Blue Jackets Air and heading to the Canadian capital, the Blue Jackets convened at Nationwide Arena for a short, focused practice before their next back-to-back set.
Much of the effort today involved special teams, and the drills served dual purpose for both the power play units and the penalty killers. Under coach John Tortorella, the Blue Jackets have seen a noticeable improvement in both categories after a disastrous start, and the penalty kill has been leading the way.
In the last nine games, the Blue Jackets have killed 29 of 32 penalties – a stretch that includes 17 in a row (an active streak). Tortorella is using multiple rotations of forwards and defensemen, and all groups are producing a similar result born from pressuring the puck carriers and being active and alert in dangerous areas.
“Two in a row” has seemed to be the Blue Jackets’ threshold over the last couple weeks. In order to climb the standings sooner rather than later, they know that has to change.
After starting 0-8, they won back-to-back games at Colorado and New Jersey, then dropped consecutive games to Washington and Winnipeg. Then it was two straight wins over San Jose and Los Angeles to open the California trip followed by losses to Anaheim and Vancouver.
The latest edition of this story includes wins over Pittsburgh and Arizona over the weekend, setting up for an important week of four games in six days beginning Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues are a team that plays similarly to how Blue Jackets want to consistently play: physical, aggressive, no-nonsense and a regular contender. In the ultra-competitive Central Division (easily the NHL’s best so far this season), the Blues are off to a solid start at 11-5-1, but sit five points back of division-leading Dallas.
Locked in a 2-2 game – a game that was, at one point, a two-goal lead for them – the Blue Jackets found themselves in a surprisingly nasty game with the Arizona Coyotes.
For two teams that are not and have never been division rivals, had a playoff series between them, or really anything to ignite the flame, Saturday’s game at Nationwide Arena featured a little of everything and it was (to say the least) spirited throughout.
With heavy legs and a relatively mundane second period winding down, the Coyotes tried to send a message of the physical variety, but it wound up being a much-needed wake up call for the Blue Jackets.
Not long after Boone Jenner gave the home team a 3-2 lead with their second power play goal of the night, all hell broke loose after John Scott got involved with Scott Hartnell in front of the Columbus bench.
The Blue Jackets knew it wasn’t good news when Brandon Dubinsky had to be scratched from Friday night’s lineup about an hour before puck drop.
They now know how long they’ll be without one of their top players. Coach John Tortorella confirmed Saturday afternoon that Dubinsky has an elbow injury and will miss approximately 2-3 weeks of action, leaving a sizable hole at center in the Blue Jackets’ lineup.
Dubinsky is being placed on injured reserve during his absence, Tortorella said, giving the team an additional roster spot if it chooses to recall another player from Lake Erie (AHL).
“I’m not going to elaborate, but it’s an elbow injury and that’s as far as I’m going with it,” Tortorella said. “He’s played really well. It’s a guy that’s getting 20-plus during a game in all situations. Sure, we’re going to miss him, but it gives other guys opportunities."
PITTSBURGH – One of the glaring problems noticed by John Tortorella upon taking the job as head coach of the Blue Jackets was the number of goals the team had given up.
First period, second period, third period…it seemed to be a never-ending problem where every mistake was magnified and every turnover found its way into their net. The goaltender’s confidence was shaken, the forwards were gripping their sticks under a lot of pressure to keep up with the number of goals they were allowing, and from top to bottom, it wasn’t a good situation (never mind that they were 0-7).
In three weeks with Tortorella at the helm, the Blue Jackets have been noticeably better defensively. They cut down on their third-period goals against – the one blip being Tuesday’s loss to Vancouver, though that was largely self-inflicted – and have started to show signs of a team concept in their defensive zone.
Now, as they look to get back on track and climb the ladder, what they really need is for their top players to start producing.
In their 5-3 loss to Vancouver on Tuesday night, the Blue Jackets gave up as many third period goals (three) than they had in their first seven games under John Tortorella.
Their late-game collapse befuddled the coach, who didn’t really know what to say about their response to Cam Atkinson’s go-ahead shorthanded goal in the third period. The prevailing thought in today’s NHL is that the three-goal plateau is the magic number, but the Blue Jackets needed at least five to have a chance last night – which puts a lot of pressure on everyone.
So, in an effort to dust themselves off and forget about it (while also, in a way, remembering it…if that makes sense?), they were back to work yesterday at Nationwide Arena in a 37-minute practice filled with battle drills, net-front defending and a lot of vocal instruction.
Their next test looms tomorrow in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, their first meeting of the season with their rivals from down I-70 – and they know that a repeat of Tuesday’s third period (or, at least, that ill-fated seven minute stretch) isn’t acceptable.
John Tortorella gathered his players at center ice this morning before adjourning their pre-game skate, leaving them with one last reminder: “let’s be ready to go tonight.”
It’s the one thing the Blue Jackets feel they have the most control over and what can help them get out of an 0-5 slump on home ice. They have bent, broken and caved at times in their own building, quite uncharacteristic of a team that was brimming with confidence – particularly at Nationwide Arena – late last season.
Against a fast and determined Vancouver Canucks team, getting out to a quality start (and avoiding one like they had last weekend against the Winnipeg Jets) is of utmost importance.
The Canucks, who wrap up a three-game trip tonight in Columbus, will give No. 1 goalie Ryan Miller the night off. Jacob Markstrom, called up yesterday from the Utica Comets (AHL), gets the start in goal for Vancouver.
In both of their victories in California (San Jose and Los Angeles), the Blue Jackets did two things particularly well in the eyes of John Tortorella: they started the game on time, and they made it a difficult game for their opponents.
As part of his quest to make the Blue Jackets a harder team to play against – we hear that refrain quite often these days, but it holds true – Tortorella is constantly reinforcing the details of the game that help them reach that level. It comes down to arriving first at loose pucks, making smart plays in tight areas and exiting the defensive zone with confidence, which bleeds into other parts of their game.
That’s all well and good on the road, where the Blue Jackets have steadied themselves and won four of seven games since Tortorella took over two weeks ago. But the real concern (as we’ve discussed before in this space) is their home record, which sits at 0-5 entering Tuesday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, Tortorella’s most recent employer.
One might think that this game has some added juice for Tortorella, but he wasn’t biting after practice on Monday. The game, regardless of the opponent, is worth two points and that’s what he wants most.
John Tortorella didn’t hold back when he was asked if he learned anything about his team from the recently completed California trip.
“I’m sure you guys did, too, honestly say, ‘oh crap, we’re going to California after that game against Winnipeg,’ right?” he said. “I thought we answered very well. I don’t think we gave in. We were a little inconsistent, but we played.”
The Blue Jackets have swept the three-game swing through San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles only once in franchise history, and they had a chance on Friday night against a Ducks team that’s starting to wake up after a disastrous start.
Columbus was in the game but couldn’t finish opportunities – particularly on the power play – and dropped a 4-2 decision, sending them back home with a yes-we-will-absolutely-take-it record of 2-1-0 on the trip.