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Practice Notebook: Blue Jackets adjust lines, focus on face-offs

Improving face-offs has gotten even tougher this week, after fourth-line center Lukas Sedlak sustained an ankle injury in practice that could keep him out six weeks

by Brian Hedger JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Face-off percentages don't usually draw much attention, until they do.

Eight games into the season, the Blue Jackets are looking to improve theirs, which is currently 43.2 percent heading into a nationally-televised game against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday at Nationwide Arena (8 p.m., NBCSN, 97.1 FM, BlueJackets.com).

The task has gotten even tougher this week, after fourth-line center Lukas Sedlak sustained an ankle injury in practice that could keep him out six weeks.

"In practice, you don't expect to see that happen, especially for the length of time he's expected to be out," veteran forward Matt Calvert said Tuesday. "He brings a lot to the table with the penalty kill and just being another solid center on our team, and with us struggling a bit on face-offs, there's guys who have to step up in that center role."

Nothing is set in stone, but it looks like forward Zac Dalpe will get the first opportunity to play in Sedlak's spot, likely skating with rookie Sonny Milano and Calvert.

Dalpe, who's in his eighth NHL season, has a 46.4 percent success rate on face-offs for his career. He also has experience playing center, and could help the Jackets improve on face-offs.

"It's the first battle of every shift, but I think a lot of it has to do with the new [face-off] rules and learning things too, getting some old habits out," said Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno, who's won 47 percent on draws. "But that is an area we need to improve in."

Adapting to stricter enforcement of rules prior to puck drops would help. The NHL is cracking down on cheating tactics prior to face-offs this season, and it's caused some issues for players trying to adjust.

It was enforced heavily in the preseason, with a virtual parade to the penalty box for violations, but that hasn't been as noticeable in the first couple weeks of the regular season.

What is still around is the uncertainty in players' minds about which pre-draw actions are acceptable and which are not.

"After the preseason, it's kind of in our heads," Sedlak said last week, prior to being injured in practice Monday. "You don't know if you can cheat or not, or you don't really know the timing, because some [officials] don't even say the 'set' thing twice. They just say, 'set,' once, and only the first guy sets. And then, sometimes you have to wait a little bit more, sometimes not. It can mess with your head."

It hasn't messed with the Jackets' possession numbers. According to naturalstattrick.com, Columbus is ranked in the top-10 in virtually every 5-on-5 possession metric.

They're third in Shot-Attempts Percentage, otherwise known as Corsi (55.6%). They're third in Unblocked Shot Attempts Percentage, or Fenwick (56.6%). They're second in Shots-For Percentage (57.9%), ninth in Goals-For Percentage (55.9%), ninth in Scoring Chances-For Percentage (52.3%) and tied for ninth with the San Jose Sharks in High-Danger Goals-For Percentage (56.2%).

"We're obviously not a team that should be dead last in the league in face-offs, but I do like that we're tenacious to get it back, and it hasn't cost us right now," Foligno said. "Down the road it could, so we need to shore that up for sure."

 

News & Notes

 

WERENSKI GETS NEW JOB DESCRIPTION: Zach Werenski has three goals, three assists and six points in the Jackets' first eight games. He also has a new name for his position, courtesy of Tortorella. Rather than 'defenseman,' the Jackets' coach refers to the offensively-gifted blue-liner as a "rover."

"That's what we're trying to turn him into, and I think that's an important position," said Tortorella, who used defenseman Dan Boyle in a similar capacity when he guided the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2006. "The way the game's played, our [defenseman] have been very aggressive up the ice, all of them, [but] I think [Werenski] has a whole different level of what he can do."

Tortorella has encouraged Werenski to pinch up in the offensive zone whenever he senses a scoring opportunity, without worrying about leaving the Jackets in a vulnerable spot.

"We want him to take chances," Tortorella said. "We want him to go. We don't want him to hold back, even though a mistake may have been made in an odd-man rush. We want him to go. So, I don't even call him a defenseman anymore."

WENNBERG GETS DAY OFF: Center Alexander Wennberg missed practice Tuesday as a maintenance day, according to Tortorella. Wennberg is expected to play against the Sabres, but might have a new line to center. Foligno worked with Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson in practice Monday and Tuesday, which could be an indication of where he'll start against Buffalo. Wennberg, meanwhile, centered Foligno's wingers - Boone Jenner and Oliver Bjorkstrand - in practice Monday.

Dalpe worked in Sedlak's spot on the fourth line, but Tortorella declined to talk about any lineup moves. "Obviously, you have to make some changes, but I'm not going to get into where guys are playing," he said.

SCHROEDER ASSIGNED TO AHL: A day after being recalled from his conditioning stint with the Cleveland Monsters, forward Jordan Schroeder was assigned back to the Monsters. Schroeder, who skated in Wennberg's place at practice, had to clear waivers in order to be assigned.

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