CLEVELAND – Entering today, three days and three practices were all that separated the Blue Jackets and their season opener on Friday night.
It won’t all be work and no play in the interim, though. During this two-day stay in Cleveland, the plan is for some team-building activities around town, including a trip to the world-famous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame downtown and also a team dinner.
This morning’s practice at OBM Arena in Strongsville (the official practice facility of the team’s new AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters) was an intense, fast-paced session that had the “season’s approaching” feel to it; plenty of systems work, 5-on-5 drills and some battle drills to close it out.
Over 100 fans (and probably more, I’m bad at math) showed up to watch practice, many of them arriving well before the team took the ice at 10 a.m. A large number of them stuck around to see the Blue Jackets and Monsters officially unveil the organization’s new CBJ-themed Monsters alternate jersey, which will be worn 12 times this season at Quicken Loans Arena.
Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno was pleasantly surprised and excited by the team’s reception in Cleveland this morning.
“I think it’s great,” he said after practice. “It’s cool to see the bond developing between these two cities and our organizations. Hopefully, the fans here are following us all season long and I know we’ll have an eye on what they’re doing up here, too.”
Here’s a smattering of updates from today:
-Matt Calvert and David Clarkson, who were both under the “banged up” umbrella last week, returned to practice today. Todd Richards has said that he expects both players to be fine for opening night.
-Ryan Johansen did not practice, with The Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reporting it to be “maintenance” for the Blue Jackets’ No. 1 center. The other three line combinations were unchanged at practice, so it’s reasonable to assume that Johansen’s ailment is not considered serious. William Karlsson took the line reps between Foligno and Brandon Saad in Johansen’s absence.
-Friday’s opponent, the New York Rangers, begin their season tomorrow night against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. It’ll be a big night in Chicago, as the Blackhawks will raise the banner on their 2015 Stanley Cup championship and take the ice with several new faces in the lineup. Among them is second-line center Artem Anisimov, whom the Blackhawks acquired in the Saad deal over the summer.
-The NHL’s roster deadline is 5 p.m. ET today. The Blue Jackets appear to be set, with 23 healthy players and two injured players (Josh Anderson and Daniel Zaar) not counting against their roster number.
-After the Blue Jackets skated, the Monsters hit the ice for their first practice with their full team. Coach Jared Bednar hasn’t even gotten into power play combinations or much special teams work at all because he’s only recently been able to get his complete group on the ice. They’ll get a real productive skate in tomorrow to prepare for their opener, which is Friday night in Rochester.
-Based on Bednar’s comments today, it would seem as though Anton Forsberg enters the season as the Monsters’ No. 1 goalie. He did say, however, that Joonas Korpisalo (who played well in both Traverse City and Blue Jackets main camp) is going to give him a significant push for playing time.