BLUE JACKETS vs. PENGUINS
Saturday, 2 p.m., Nationwide Arena (BlueJackets.com/Live, Fox Sports Go, NHL Network, 97.1 The Fan)
With Columbus more than a week (and two preseason games) into camp, decisions are starting to get made.
The Blue Jackets took to the ice in two separate groups on Friday, a 23-skater and two-goaltender group of players skated under the watchful eye of the team's NHL coaching staff including head coach John Tortorella. The second group was led by Cleveland Monsters coach Mike Eaves.
Included among the NHL portion of the practice were forwards Alexandre Texier, Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nick Foligno, Josh Anderson, Boone Jenner, Gustav Nyquist, Alexander Wennberg, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Emil Bemstrom, Riley Nash, Sonny Milano, Markus Hannikainen, Brandon Dubinsky and Marko Dano. The eight defensemen were Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, Zach Werenski, David Savard, Markus Nutivaara, Vladislav Gavrikov, Dean Kukan and Scott Harrington, with Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins in net.
All others skated under the watch of Eaves in a practice session that took place later. While Tortorella said the split was a nod to the team starting to settle on a roster, he also said things are certainly not set in stone yet.
"We split," Tortorella said after practice. "But it certainly doesn't stop crossovers. A number of guys that will be skating in Eaver's group are going to play some more exhibition games also. We have certainly not made any final determinations as far as what we are, but we have to start getting into a little bit of a game look, a team look to work on some game situations."
When it comes down to making final roster determinations ahead of the Oct. 4 opener vs. Toronto at Nationwide Arena, the hard part comes now. While the home win Tuesday vs. Buffalo and Thursday's loss at Pittsburgh are early data points, they also came amid the hardest week of work during camp when the players are skated to their near limits in order to build conditioning for the season ahead.
"I think for me, the evaluating is going to start now in these upcoming exhibition games," Tortorella said. "Last night's game, that is a tired group of men trying to play a game. We win the first one, it's still ugly. It's very tough to evaluate and be fair with your evaluation.
"Now we're going to start backing off the skating, work on some concepts and hopefully these guys will freshen up. They had a day off. I think that's where we're going to see a little bit more of what we consider evaluating as we go through this last half of camp."
The game will mark the preseason debuts of seven Blue Jackets veterans in forwards Atkinson, Dubois, Foligno, Anderson and Jenner as well as defensemen Murray and Nutivaara. Click here to view the full 20-man roster.
Tortorella confirmed Texier will play on the top line with Dubois centering and Atkinson on the right wing, as the Frenchman who debuted during last season's stretch run continues to impress Blue Jackets brass. It also seems likely the Foligno-Jenner-Anderson line will see the ice as the trio has been skating together throughout camp.
It will also be another chance for a number of youngsters hoping to catch eyes to shine, as Kole Sherwood (who scored a goal vs. Buffalo), Kevin Stenlund, Trey Fix-Wolansky and Eric Robinson will all be on the ice. Stenlund will be the only player to skate in all three postseason games when he takes the ice.
Along the blue line, Tortorella said he's still working to determine what the team's pairings will be at the start of the season.
In net, Korpisalo and Kivlenieks will return to the Nationwide nets Saturday after they comprised the goaltending tandem Tuesday as the Blue Jackets posted a 4-1 victory over Buffalo. The two split the game, as Korpisalo faced 12 shots without allowing a goal while Kivlenieks stopped 16 of 17 shots against.
It will be a busy weekend for the Blue Jackets, who also trip to St. Louis for a 3:30 p.m. game Sunday. Then the team will be off Monday, and roster cuts are expected early in the week. Columbus goes into the final week of camp with games scheduled at Buffalo on Wednesday before home games Friday (New Jesey) and Sunday (St. Louis) in Nationwide Arena.