SECOND PERIOD ANALYSIS: Todd Richards wanted to get the Blue Jackets playing a fast, team game tonight and so far they have done just that. They lead 2-0 over the Wild after 40 minutes and lead in shots by a 27-15 margin, and we can look at two things that have led us to the score as it currently stands; first, a 5-on-3 penalty kill for 73 seconds midway through the second period was a huge tipping point. The Wild had their five top guns on the ice and the Blue Jackets were without Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, two of their top penalty killers. It was no problem for Mark Letestu, Fedor Tyutin and Derek MacKenzie, who did a terrific job taking away passing lanes and disrupting the Wild up-ice. Secondly, the Blue Jackets have used their No. 1 weapon, the forecheck, to their advantage. They're sending one or two guys in, finishing checks and tracking back with speed.
FIRST PERIOD ANALYSIS: The Blue Jackets came prepared to play a tight-checking game tonight against a stingy Minnesota Wild club, but there was a pretty good pace to the opening period here at Nationwide Arena. Both teams had a few nice looks off the rush, and in particular, Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom made a pair of big stops to keep this a scoreless game. The Blue Jackets held a 9-4 shot advantage through the first 17 minutes of the first period, and a lot of that was due to their cycle game. More shots, more traffic and more work below the hashmarks is needed by Columbus to break this 0-0 deadlock.
UPDATE (11:00 AM): Richards said he expects the Wild to come out and play a hard game tonight after their thrilling 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks last night. He said the Blue Jackets will need to be smart with their puck decisions, especially in the neutral zone, and make the Wild play in their own end as much as possible. "They check well," Richards said. In order to keep Minnesota from establishing its style, the Blue Jackets have to be committed to theirs.
UPDATE (10:35 AM): After taking a couple of days off from skating earlier this week, Nathan Horton is back on the ice today in his red, non-contact sweater.
UPDATE (10:25 AM): Todd Richards just called the group over and brought this morning skate to an end. We'll have more updates throughout the morning, including photos, the coach's thoughts, player interviews and more.
UPDATE (10:15 AM): Plenty of work this morning for the Blue Jackets, who have made the most of their practice time this week, covering all the bases when they have the ability to do so. With only two games this week, no better time to fine-tune things with a busy stretch ahead. This morning, we're seeing plenty of special teams reps and some work on their breakouts, as well.
UPDATE (10:10 AM): Here are the lines and pairs being used this morning...
Foligno - Johansen - Umberger
Calvert - Dubinsky - Atkinson
Jenner - Anisimov - Comeau
Skille - MacKenzie/Letestu - Tropp
**A decision will need to be made up front (in terms of who's a healthy scratch tonight) with MacKenzie's return.
Tyutin - Johnson
Murray - Wisniewski
Nikitin - Prout
UPDATE (10:05 AM): The Blue Jackets have taken the ice for their morning skate here on the main ice at Nationwide Arena. As expected, Curtis McElhinney is the starting goaltender for Columbus this evening.
MORNING SKATE: The Blue Jackets are slated to take their morning skate at 10 a.m. here at Nationwide Arena. As always, we'll have live updates from the skate here at Game Day Central, and also, pre-game interviews, photos, audio and more once we meet with the players and coach Todd Richards. Stay tuned to this page for the latest!
The Blue Jackets begin the interim Curtis McElhinney era on Friday night, when they host the Minnesota Wild at Nationwide Arena. With Sergei Bobrovsky on the shelf for the next 4-5 weeks, it's not just the goaltending that needs to step up - the same goes for every player on the roster.
Brandon Dubinsky provided a huge lift to the Blue Jackets upon returning from a foot injury on Tuesday night, and the hope is that Derek MacKenzie isn't too far off. Earlier this week, coach Todd Richards said it was possible for MacKenzie to play Friday, but it's definitely not a certainty and they'll know more after the morning skate.
Between the pipes, it's now McElhinney's net and as GM Jarmo Kekalainen said Wednesday, this is a big opportunity for the veteran netminder.
Adversity presents opportunity, and that's how the Blue Jackets are approaching life without Bobrovsky over the next month.
Does losing their Vezina Trophy winning goaltender deal them a significant blow? It could, but a lot also depends on how the team responds and rallies around McElhinney, who has played well in his eight appearances so far this season. The 30-year-old enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2012-13, leading (or near the top of) several goaltending statsitics in the American Hockey League and helping the Springfield Falcons to one of the best seasons in franchise history.
On top of that: think back to a month ago, when the Blue Jackets had dropped four straight games from Oct. 12-19 and returned home on the second leg of a back-to-back to face a desperate Vancouver Canucks team. Richards opted to give McElhinney his first start that afternoon and McElhinney was terrific, stopping 38 shots and earning the game's No. 1 star honor in a much-needed 3-1 victory.
In his first start, the Blue Jackets are up against a Minnesota team that's been all-systems go in recent weeks. They snapped an 0-3-1 skid with an impressive 2-0 win over the Flyers on Monday night, and (as of this writing) were preparing to face the Chicago Blackhawks on home ice Thursday night. On the second half of back-to-backs, the Wild are likely to start Niklas Backstrom between the pipes - a guy that has always played very well against the Blue Jackets.
One thing the Wild have worked at lately is their power play; entering Thursday night, Minnesota had not scored a power play goal since Nov. 20 in Ottawa, going 0-for-11 in those six games. With skilled players like Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin on the back end and Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and others up front, one would think it's merely a matter of time before the Wild get things sorted out on the man advantage. And having Parise is the real boost for Minnesota; originally thought he would miss 2-3 weeks with a foot injury, Parise missed one game and was back in the Wild's lineup.
The Blue Jackets have been searching for ways to break out of their win-loss-win-loss pattern that's befuddled just about everyone, and they will certainly be tested against their expansion bretheren from the Twin Cities. Is this the rallying point for the Blue Jackets, one that brings them together and forges them ahead in the absence of their No. 1 goaltender?
We'll find out starting Friday night.
AT PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
MONDAY, 7:30 P.M.
CONSOL ENERGY CENTER
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