Scott Arniel had tried just about everything to get goal-scoring from outside his top line, but Sunday in St. Louis, he did something he hadn’t yet: split up the duo of Rick Nash and Jeff Carter.
The decision was made in part because the Blue Jackets have struggled to establish a true source of secondary scoring, and Arniel said he did not create the combinations because Nash and Carter weren’t producing; he wanted to see how they would fare in a different scenario.
When the puck dropped at Scottrade Center Sunday, Nash was lined up on the left side of a line that featured Derick Brassard at center and R.J. Umberger on the right wing.
Carter centered a line with Vinny Prospal on his left wing and Mark Letestu on the right, and those three showed chemistry right off the bat. Columbus scored four goals in the game, and despite coming out on the losing end, there were encouraging signs for an enhanced offensive game.
“We didn’t like the way we gave up goals, too, so I think the more they get to practice together the chemistry comes from it,” Arniel said. “We need to continue to improve and that’s why we had everyone going through (the hard practice) today.
“In St. Louis, the Backes line is usually their shutdown line, and we either got Rick away from people or Jeff away from people. It’s no different against Nashville where those two big defensemen are always against top people – in our case, it was Jeff and Rick.”
Nash and his line mates didn’t need any introductions; he, Umberger and Brassard have played together several times over the years and have developed a feel for where to be on the ice. Nash said while he and Carter weren’t lacking chemistry or production with Prospal, the current setup gets him back to a style of game with which he’s familiar.
“For me, it’s fun to play with Carter and Vinny and we’ve had a lot chemistry and success,” Nash told BlueJackets.com. “But we also bring different aspects to the game. With Umby and Brass, it’s more of a straight-line game where we’re a bit more solid.
“Carter, Vinny and I were gaining more chemistry every time we played together, but (with Umberger and Brassard) we’ve played together so many times over the years and we know each other’s games. We can still switch it around, depending on the situation and time of the game. We’ve got some flexibility there.”
In order for the Blue Jackets to consistently get more offensive production and in turn put more wins on the board, they know that a balanced attack is needed. Several players pointed to the makeup of the best teams in the NHL, teams that can put three or sometimes four scoring lines on the ice, making game-planning a nearly impossible task.
Umberger was a presence on the power play against the Blues, and set up camp right in front of goaltender Jaroslav Halak. The Blue Jackets’ first goal came off net traffic as well, with Derek MacKenzie scoring on a rebound at the side of the net. They scored all four goals at 5-on-5 and the top six was responsible for 21 shots on goal combined, with Umberger leading the way at five. Prospal set up Carter for a great chance in the slot that was denied by Halak, one of Carter’s four shots on goal.
While creating offense against a solid defensive team was a good sign, Umberger said the Blue Jackets have to get better in the third period. They have a 7-4-2 record when leading after two periods, and when it boils down, that’s seven wins and six losses.
“For us now, it’s about clamping down in the third period and being a stingy defensive team,” Umberger told BlueJackets.com. “Derick’s playing well, skating fast and wanting the puck; I think he’s pretty easy to play with, and Nasher speaks for himself.
“You need a well-balanced team. For the most part, the third line has done a really good job against other team’s top lines and is scoring goals, too. If we can really get two good offensive lines going from that, and it should be dangerous for us.”
Arniel cautioned that the split is not permanent, and certain game situations will lead to reassembling the Prospal-Carter-Nash trio – in particular, late power plays or when the team needs a goal to tie the game. Though Nash and Carter have played together most of the season, Carter’s foot injury that saw him miss 10 games caused line shuffling and delayed their alliance.
Star players can’t just snap their fingers and develop chemistry. Unless, of course, you’re Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
“It’s two things: it was to have more offense from different and more lines, and also to maybe throw the other coach off by not allowing him to get his exact matchup that he wants,” Arniel said. “But also, we have people not producing, too. We need more people to get their game going.
“But I think over the long haul they’ll be good together, but with what’s gone on the first 30 games, the chemistry’s going to take a while to build. Being able to split them up and have success with two lines is a big bonus.”