Power play the focus as Jackets hold rare full practice
Todd Richards let out a chuckle when asked about conducting a complete practice this morning at Nationwide Arena. Due to the compressed schedule and a recent stretch that saw the Blue Jackets play nine games in a span of 16 days, the opportunities to hash out some things in practice were few and far between.
Days of rest - like the team had on Sunday with a day off - are just as essential to maintaining energy and mental sharpness for what figures to be a challenging closing stretch. Beginning with tomorrow's game against Nashville at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets play their final 19 games in 40 days. That's approximately a game every other night with two road swings of four games or more mixed in.
HOLY MOLY WHAT A GOALIE
So when Richards and his coaching staff sat down to map out today's practice - an important one given where the team sits in the standings despite a struggling power play and inconsistent scoring - he wasn't sure where to start. Of course, he said so jokingly but stressed that one side of the Blue Jackets' special teams clearly has to be better.
"When you go back and look at our games, systematically and how we're playing 5-on-5 and our penalty kill has been good all season," Richards said. "We're seeing improvements 5-on-5 and the one area that's been a bit of a letdown has been our power play. It's not so much getting the puck into their zone, it's once we get it there (that's been a problem).
"Our execution hasn't been good, we lose battles and we aren't moving fast enough or playing fast enough to have success. Today's a day where we can at least go out and talk about some things, get guys moving a little bit. Our penalty kill still had the upper hand today, and I guess that's not a surprise."
WHAT ABOUT BOB?
Jack Johnson joked after Saturday's win over Phoenix that the team could just keep the celebratory "title belt" in Sergei Bobrovsky's stall, and that was before the NHL announced its stars of the week this afternoon.
Bobrovsky, who went 1-0-2 last week with a 0.62 goals-against average and a .982 save percentage, was named the NHL's third star of the week ending Mar. 17. "Bob" has gone 7-1-3 with a 1.34 goals-against average, .955 save percentage and two shutouts (the first two of his NHL career) in his last 11 games to improve to 9-6-5 with a 2.00 goals-against, .932 save percentage and two clean sheets in 20 games this season.
He currently ranks second in the NHL in save percentage, fourth (tied) in shutouts and sixth in goals-against average.
"It's surprising that he's the third star, based on what I saw," Richards said. "Great is probably the best adjective...he was great."
MAINTENANCE OF MIND AND BODY
Two absences from today's practice were RJ Umberger and Adrian Aucoin, but Richards termed them maintenance days for both players. Umberger was reportedly questionable for Saturday's game but did play, and Aucoin sat out that game to help maintain his energy, Richards said.
Derek MacKenzie did practice, but his return to game action is not certain. He's missed time due to an upper body injury but his energy level is getting back to where the team needs it to be, Richards said.
"Guys are beat up, banged up...we just went through a tough stretch of nine in 16 (days)," Richards said. "For the guys who are banged up, we have a little bit of time here to hopefully rest some bodies. If you went to the other 29 teams, they'd all be saying the same thing. In the situation we're in, you're piling 48 games into a small window.
"If the body doesn't have time to recover from these bumps and bruises, it just starts to break down. And you get a lot of these little nagging injuries that can take you out or force you to miss some time."