There was a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air as the Blue Jackets returned to practice this morning at Nationwide Arena.
Yes, the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins are two days away from opening a new chapter as Metropolitan Division rivals (they'll face each other twice in 24 hours, which should help get things going) - but the team's Fathers Trip coincides with the home-and-home and many of the dads are already here or will be over the next several hours.
One look up in the stands this morning, and you can see some of them watching the skate. It's a cool experience for all of them, and not just because they get to hang out with their sons - many of whom are playing hockey halfway around the world from the place they once called home.
All smiles today was Pavol Gaborik, Marian's father, who is town from Slovakia and eager to get to know the other Blue Jacket dads.
"His English is so-so but he gets by," Marian told BlueJackets.com after practice today. "This is still kind of a new team for me, so it's really cool for him to come to Columbus, meet the guys and meet the other dads. My parents have been visiting me since I was 18, but this is good for him to see the new city and a different building.
"It's a new experience for him and he gets to meet some new people."
On the ice, Todd Richards got the group back to work on some details pertaining to the weekend series against the Penguins. They worked on special teams, defensive zone coverage and some tweaks in the neutral zone - all things that a team must do exceedingly well against the league's elite.
Here are some assorted notes from today's skate:
- Richards said Derek MacKenzie, who skated on his own today, is a possibility to play this weekend. The team's medical staff will update Richards later today on MacKenzie's progress and they'll make a determination after that.
- Boone Jenner is not going to play this weekend, Richards said. He's looking at a "double-digit day" recovery period after a leg injury suffered in last Friday's game against the Maple Leafs. Jenner has been walking around without a limp, but the team isn't going to rush him back.
- With a back-to-back on tap, Richards was asked about his plans to use Curtis McElhinney. He said he hasn't mapped it out but it's possible that both goaltenders could start a game this weekend. It depends on a number of things, Richards said, including Bobrovsky's workload, how the game goes, etc.
- One area of focus for the Blue Jackets has been defending teams off the rush. Richards said he's noticed how more teams in the East like to play off the rush but it's not every team; the Jackets want to make sure they stick to their plan, which is to be a team that defends hard, and create more consistency with their attack. Much like they did against Toronto - a fast, rush-based team - the Blue Jackets want to keep their head on a swivel and stay active against Pittsburgh.
- Artem Anisimov briefly left practice after taking an errant puck to the mouth. After some quick repairs, he was back on the ice but it looked...painful.