Unfortunately for Rick Nash and Jeff Carter, they can’t stop by the grocery store and pick up some chemistry.
The Blue Jackets’ primary components on the No. 1 line have had an entire summer to think about the upcoming season and what it will be like to play together. Carter arrived this summer through a trade, sending waves throughout the league that Nash may finally have his center.
From the moment Carter became property of the Blue Jackets, the pressure was cranked up. Some of the pressure is external and some is internal – it’s no secret Carter wants to show that he and Nash can make it happen on the ice.
“Every game we go out there, our goal has been to get better,” Carter told BlueJackets.com. “And I think we’ve done that in the first three preseason games. We’ve never played together, so we’ve had to figure out where we go on the ice and find the holes.” Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel has rotated the third winger throughout camp and exhibition games, using the likes of Vinny Prospal, R.J. Umberger, Derick Brassard and, most recently, Alexandre Giroux.
Arniel has kept an eye on Nash and Carter during practice and in the flow of games, but with two players as talented as they are, coaches and the two superstars know that it will eventually start to take shape.
“You try to figure out each other’s game, tendencies and where you like to find the puck,” Nash said. “So far, so good, and that’s all you can ask for right now.”
Carter scored a good-looking power play goal in a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon, one that started with a good read from Nash.
“(Chemistry) happens during the games we play, but it also happens in practice,” Arniel told BlueJackets.com. “That’s where they can start to be creative and figure out the kinds of things they like to do on the ice.
“In practice, we’ve been doing some cycle things that will get them to start reacting off each other. You’ll see their creativity; it’s something that sometimes takes a little longer than others but sometimes it happens instantly.”
Progress reports are almost unfair to the players because it is a process that can take a while. But the game against the Sabres featured Nash and Carter as the club’s top offensive weapons; they found each other cross-ice, behind the net on a cycle and in the slot – a place where Carter did a lot of damage as an All-Star with the Philadelphia Flyers.
“We’re both shooters, but we can make plays too,” Nash said. “If not, then the two of us being on separate line makes us a double threat… but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”
In Philadelphia, chemistry needed to develop quickly as Carter played with several combinations of players. He played both center and right wing during his time with the Flyers and lined up with Daniel Briere, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk among others.
Regardless of the names skating with him, Carter was able to mesh and post impressive numbers. He thinks doing the same in Columbus will be helped along by logging minutes as Nash’s center.
“It makes the game a lot easier in general,” Carter said. “When you play with good players like you mentioned, and now a guy like Rick, it’s about finding space on the ice and they will find you.
“It makes the game a lot easier for myself, and makes me a much better player, too.”
Carter has scored a lot of goals in his career in a similar fashion – seemingly going undercover and hiding from the defenders, sliding into the slot area and whipping pucks into the net with his world-class wrist shot.
Evidence of that came against Buffalo, a game both Carter and Arniel thought was the team’s best of the preseason. For so long, teams have tried to key on Nash and use an extra defenseman to neutralize No. 61.
The Sabres tried that tactic, but it enabled Carter to mask in coverage and get several chances right between the face off circles. He and Nash appeared formidable on the majority of their shifts together, what Carter thinks is a sign that they’re on the verge of working their magic on a regular basis.
“It’s something that I’ve always done, just finding the space that the wingers create,” Carter said. “I try to get up high and come in beneath the coverage into the slot.
“I’ve scored a lot of my goals from there so it’s a familiar spot.”
The Blue Jackets are confident Carter and Nash will soon become another in a long line of high-octane tandems in the NHL. Arniel believes their progress just 13 days into training camp is a positive sign, especially given they were on-ice strangers just two weeks ago.
“With those two guys, it’s so much about being on the same page,” Arniel said.
“Where they were against Buffalo compared to where they were against Washington (last week), to me, those were huge strides.”