Now the fun begins.
Monday finished five straight days of hard work for the Blue Jackets. Over the past three days, Blue Jackets players have gone through four scrimmages, three practices and multiple workouts apiece. The day before that was skate testing day, as the players were left bent over on the ice after being pushed to their limits. The day before that was the famous two-mile run, not to mention physical testing.
But there is a break on the horizon.
Tuesday comes the first exhibition game at Nationwide Arena vs. Buffalo, so 20 of the 50-plus players in camp will get the chance to play against another team (the rest will have shorter on- and off-ice workouts). Then, on Wednesday, a real break - an off day before Thursday's second preseason game at Pittsburgh.
In the meantime, Monday's action included two more scrimmages, both of which were won in the final minutes.
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In the first matchup, Dillon Simpson's late goal in a scramble past Veini Vehvilainen gave Team 1 a 2-1 win over Team 3. Nathan Gerbe also scored for the winning side, while Brandon Dubinsky tallied for Team 3.
The third game was a 3-2 final in favor of Team 2, which got the winner off the stick of Josh Anderson. Teammates Riley Nash - who has scored in each day of scrimmages - and Sonny Milano also tallied, while Team 1 got goals from Alexandre Texier and Marko Dano.
In the nets, Joonas Korpisalo gave up his first goal of the camp scrimmages, but it's still the only one he's let in during 80-plus minutes of excellent work. Elvis Merzlikins also turned in a scoreless 20-minute period of action, while Vehvilainen ceded two goals in 25 minutes of work.
The legs are sore across the board, but that's by design. Some of the hardest days are now in the books as the Blue Jackets get ready for the upcoming season.
"Your body gets tired and so on," forward Oliver Bjorkstrand said. "You try to recover fast. I feel fine now, but you definitely feel tired on the ice. It wears you down, but we're getting in good conditioning, so it's a good thing. You just have to keep going."
Murray Misses A Day
When Team 3 took to the ice for its morning practice, defenseman Ryan Murray was not on the ice, and he also missed his team's scrimmage on the day.
The Blue Jackets opted to hold the veteran out simply to avoid overworking him in early in camp, and the goal is to keep Murray healthy for the games that matter down the road. The defenseman is coming off a season of both good and bad -- he had his best season as an NHL player but also lost the last three months to injury.
"We're trying to be careful," head coach John Tortorella said. "I watched him play last year and I thought he was outstanding. He's a pretty important guy in our back end. We're going to be really careful as far as some of the struggles that he's had as far as his health and hopefully just try to meet him halfway here as far as camp, getting some rest when he needs it so we don't lose him.
"He's a real important guy for us as far as getting us out of the end zone and just his whole game last year, I thought he was outstanding."
Murray moved up to the No. 1 defensive pairing with Seth Jones for much of the season and finished last year with a goal and 28 assists in 56 games before leaving the Feb. 18 game vs. Tampa Bay. He finished in the top 10 among NHL defensemen who played in at least 50 games in points per game while also earning a plus-20 rating, all without playing extensive power-play time.
But the injury suffered against the Lightning ended his season, though Murray said he was close to a return when the playoff run ended vs. Boston. This year, the Saskatchewan native says he feels fine going to camp and hopes a few tweaks added to his preseason training regimen will help him avoid any recurring issues.
And if he has to miss practice time throughout the year, so be it if it helps keep him ready for game action.
"We just talked about just day-by-day and making sure we're staying on top of it," he said of his preseason conversations with the team. "Sometimes things can get tricky. You don't want any surprises, but they do happen. Just taking it day-by-day and whatever happens -- maybe I don't have to take any time or any practices off. That would be the best-case scenario. We'll see how it goes."
After missing half of Saturday's on-ice sessions and Sunday's scrimmaging with an illness, defenseman Markus Nutivaara returned to the ice Monday to play in both of his team's scrimmages.
Nutivaara said the sickness hit him hard Saturday, and he was not on the ice Sunday just to be safe.
It wasn't a case, though, where he felt happy to be missing some of the most strenuous days of the season for the Blue Jackets.
"It's tough," he said. "You just want to be out there with the team and suffer with the team. I felt bad for the boys."