Features

Improved Defense Helps Jackets Play "the Right Way"

Goals Against Average is only 2.08 over the last nine games

Monday, 01.04.2010 / 2:10 PM / Features
By David DiCenzo  - for BlueJackets.com

Over the past few seasons, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock has made repeated references to playing hockey "the right way." The great Montreal Canadiens dynasty of the 1970s, where the talent level was high, but the hockey IQs were even higher, is the example Hitchcock uses when defining the phrase.

In its simplest form, "the right way" means tending to your own end, creating offensive opportunities off of defense and managing the puck. It's how the New Jersey Devils won their championships and how Hitchcock himself hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999. It's how Columbus began to play last year.

And despite the last-minute loss to the Colorado Avalanche Saturday, it's how the Jackets have generally been playing for the past couple weeks.

"We have bought in to where we were before," Hitchcock said at Saturday's skate. "This is our identity, this is what's given us all of the success last year and it's starting to come around again this year."

"This is our identity, this is what's given us all of the success last year and it's starting to come around again this year." - - Head Coach Ken Hitchcock

Columbus had allowed just six goals in the four games prior to meeting the Avalanche, the best performance obviously coming in a 1-0 shutout of the Detroit Red Wings. The Jackets earned just four points from those four games because the offense didn't come through but the attention to detail was much more to the coach's liking.

"We're just sticking to what we have to do out there, what we're told," says Raffi Torres. "It starts from the back end.

"We've been giving ourselves a chance to win games. Offensively, we have to be better but overall we've made some strides."

The commitment in their own end has been a help to the Columbus goaltending combo of Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon. Mason says that he's seeing his teammates work hard in front of the net to clear out bodies and loose pucks.

And it's making a difference.

"From a goalie's standpoint, it makes our job easier when the guys in front of you are competing hard," says Mason, who looked like he was in his rookie form turning away all 34 shots he faced in a 1-0 overtime win versus the Red Wings last week.

It's strange that the Jackets had gotten so far away from the method used to win most of their games last season. The team had established a reputation around the NHL as a dangerous club that will frustrate you and then pounce.

Newcomer Chris Clark saw that firsthand the past couple seasons when Columbus faced his old team, the Washington Capitals. Clark clearly recalls the way the Jackets got under the skin of young stars like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, forcing them into mistakes with grit and persistence.

"You key on them and make their life terrible on the ice, they'll get frustrated and start taking penalties," says Clark. "That's exactly what Columbus did previously.

"It's something we want to get back to here," he adds of the commitment behind their own blueline. "You have to start on the defensive side. We've very done well, letting in one or two goals a game. That's a good start."

Clark also feels that the addition of big defenseman Milan Jurcina will pay off for the Jackets, particularly in their own zone.

"He's a huge person," Clark says. "Physical, dependable back there, he can move guys out in front of the net."

While there are signs of promise, the cold reality is that Columbus is near the bottom of the Western Conference right now. Small improvements aren't enough. The players understand the need to start stringing together some wins, which will only come with a consistent effort at both ends of the rink.

"It's never too late," says Torres. "We might be at the bottom of the barrel right now, but five, six (wins), and anything's possible, especially with how tight this conference is.

"We have our work cut our for us."

Prior to the Colorado game, Mason suggested that the team's confidence was slowly returning.

"We have a ton of work to do to get to do in order to get back into the playoff race," says Mason. "Everybody in here is prepared to do the work."

The objective is to play "the right way." Columbus has 39 games remaining to prove they can do it.

"If we stay with this mindset we're going to have success," says Hitchcock. "If we get away from it, we'll be back to where we were in early December."

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
3 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
4 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
5 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
6 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
7 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
8 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
9 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
10 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
11 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
12 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
13 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
14 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79
15 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
16 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
R. Johansen 82 33 30 3 63
J. Wisniewski 75 7 44 0 51
B. Dubinsky 76 16 34 5 50
C. Atkinson 79 21 19 -4 40
A. Anisimov 81 22 17 -2 39
N. Foligno 70 18 21 5 39
R. Umberger 74 18 16 -3 34
M. Letestu 82 12 22 1 34
J. Johnson 82 5 28 -7 33
B. Jenner 72 16 13 6 29
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
S. Bobrovsky 32 20 5 .923 2.38
C. McElhinney 10 11 1 .909 2.70
 
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