After Monday's practice, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards hoped he would have the majority of his injured players back for today's skate.
The good news is that he did. Artem Anisimov was back, Nikita Nikitin as well, and Marian Gaborik returned from Slovakia where he was attending his grandmother's funeral. The lone absence today was Jared Boll, who skated on his own after the team practice and has yet to be ruled out for opening night.
You know what means, right? The Blue Jackets went through an hour-long practice and used a new set of line combinations, presumably some of the trios they hope to employ on opening night against Calgary. They worked on the power play - and really, few days have gone by without hammering away at it - and touched on a few more systematic things on their second day of a four-day practice week.
And so, it begins.
The Blue Jackets took the ice this morning for an hour-plus practice on the main ice at Nationwide Arena, beginning final preparations for their opening night showdown with the Calgary Flames. It was very business-like today for Todd Richards and his coaching staff, hitting hard on some systems items and also getting the players revved back up after a light weekend.
First, some housekeeping items: the Blue Jackets were without Artem Anisimov (day-to-day), Nikita Nikitin (illness), Marian Gaborik (personal) and Jared Boll (upper body) for today's skate. According to Richards, three of the four - save for Boll - are expected back in the coming days if all goes well. Richards wasn't ready to rule out Boll for opening night, but he admitted it was a bit of a long shot.
Derek MacKenzie returned to practice today and it's a step in the right direction for his recovery. He sported a red non-contact sweater and didn't skate with a set line, but took part in several drills and looked good in his first practice back.
After a great day yesterday at Double Eagle for the Blue Jackets Foundation Golf Classic, the Blue Jackets got right back to work this morning at Nationwide Arena.
They skated for roughly 45 minutes, working on a few systematic aspects of their game before wrapping up with a half-ice three-on-three game (which is always really entertaining to watch, but can't be fun if you're a goalie).
A good sign for the Blue Jackets was Curtis McElhinney's return to practice about missing roughly a week's time with a lower body injury. He participated in the full skate, looked pretty sharp and with a day off Sunday, should be back on the ice for Monday's practice.
The big news today were the cuts: Todd Richards confirmed after practice that the team has made its last wave of pre-opening night roster moves.
Click here for the latest round of roster moves...
Two days after recalling them for a preseason game in Buffalo, the Blue Jackets have re-assigned three players to the Springfield Falcons.
Jonathan Marchessault, Sean Collins and Dalton Smith - the former two having played last night against the Carolina Hurricanes - are headed back to Springfield with Falcons training camp already in full swing. The Blue Jackets roster now stands at 33 players, a number that includes injured forward Nathan Horton.
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards provided an injury update on Artem Anisimov after the game, saying he was removed for mainly precautionary purposes and any absence should be considered maintenance.
The Blue Jackets have Friday off, and most players will be participating the Blue Jackets Foundation's annual charity golf outing at Double Eagle. They are scheduled to return to practice on Saturday morning.
Two weeks ago, in this very space, we talked about the story lines and competition for roster spots that would transpire as training camp hit its stride.
We weren't kidding. And guess what? We're just a few days from a conclusion.
The Blue Jackets are mere hours away from playing their eighth and final exhibition game of 2013-14, which means there's one last dress rehearsal for the veterans (in a game situation) and one last opportunity for players on the bubble to state their cases. At forward, there are multiple spots open at least for the time being, with Derek MacKenzie, Jared Boll and Cody Bass currently out of the lineup.
On defense, the top four is set but in no particular order: James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson, Nikita Nikitin and Fedor Tyutin. You have to figure Dalton Prout is part of the regular mix, which makes five, leaving two spots open for 4-5 players to settle.
And then there's the goaltending position, which we all know is quarterbacked by Sergei Bobrovsky, but there's still some uncertainty as to how the backup's job is going to look come opening night. Curtis McElhinney is still out of the lineup but has been skating on his own recently, and there's been no definite word as to whether he will be ready for next Friday's opener.
What's at stake tonight and who's got something to prove? Let's take a look...
With back-to-back exhibition games coming up on Wednesday and Thursday (and following a disappointing special teams performance last night against Minnesota), it was back to work on the power play for the Blue Jackets today.
They skated for about 45 minutes at Nationwide Arena, and it was almost exclusively a power play session. Todd Richards was pretty clear after Monday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Wild that the power play simply wasn't good enough, whether it was their puck movement, execution or work ethic.
And that was a focal point as the Blue Jackets went through several drills on the main ice, looking to get things back on track before their final two preseason games.
Over the course of the practice, the penalty killing units played with no sticks, in three-man units, four-man units and with their sticks turned upside down. Richards wanted to see crisp movement, pucks at the net and a commitment to the secondary scoring chances.
Dalton Prout had this date circled as he recovered from abdominal surgery over a month ago. It just so happened that everything fell in his favor.
He's practically been ahead of schedule for a few weeks now, but Prout said last week he was back to 100 percent and was cleared for contact practice not long after. After a handful of practices to get himself up to speed, he's now poised to return to the lineup tonight against the Minnesota Wild.
It was originally thought that Prout wouldn't be ready until the regular season opener (Oct. 4 against Calgary), but at this point, he is likely to play two of the Blue Jackets' final three preseason games.
"I'm excited to get back in the lineup," Prout said after today's morning skate. "I've seen these guys do it for long enough...I just can't wait to get out there. I feel like I'm to the point right now where I can go out on the ice and not even think about my injury. A couple of weeks ago at the opening of training camp, I'd go out on the ice and wouldn't feel lose until the first five or 10 minutes."
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards let out a chuckle when told he was vocal out on the ice today.
"Maybe I was? I'll have to go back and ask my assistant coaches," he joked. "I liked our practice. We got out of it what we wanted to do as coaches, as far as planning our day and what we need to get better at."
It was a productive day for the Blue Jackets, who flew home from Pittsburgh after a 5-3 win on Saturday at CONSOL Energy Center and took the ice for a Sunday skate at Nationwide Arena. They practiced for a little more than an hour and covered several items of note for Richards and his staff, all in preparation for Monday night's game against the Minnesota Wild.
Columbus will dress a veteran-heavy lineup vs. Minnesota, including its top line from Saturday and No. 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The Wild are expected to start Josh Harding in net, while Zach Parise, Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu are not slated to play against the Blue Jackets.
For the second time in three years, NHL goaltenders are dealing with a change and/or reduction in the size of their gear - in particular, the leg pads.
It has been a topic of conversation around the sport since the new rules for 2013-14 were implemented over the summer. Goalies are seeing the average maximum height of their leg pads decrease by an average of two inches, a number that may vary depending on the player's height. Some goalies are losing nearly three inches and others are losing an inch (give or take), but the song and dance is nothing new for them.
Blue Jackets goaltender Mike McKenna stands at 6-foot-3, making him the tallest goalie in the organization and the player who has seen the most significant change in his equipment. He only recently received his new equipment back from the NHL, and used it for the first time during the team's morning skate on Tuesday prior to facing Buffalo at Nationwide Arena.
They know the drill: it's "adapt or die," as McKenna likes to say. The rules are out of his control but it's his job to adjust and make the most of what he's allotted.