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Practice Notebook: March 21

Jackets get ready for critical Metropolitan back-to-back

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL / BlueJackets.com

The Blue Jackets have a healthy forward group and a position secured in the NHL playoffs. That affords head coach John Tortorella the unique opportunity to work with his line combinations in the 11 remaining games to find the best lineup possible going into the post-season.

"We've been a top six and then a six where I'm not sure which was the third and fourth line as you've gone through each night," Tortorella said. "I don't know what the best lineup going into the playoffs is right now and that's a good thing. I think with additions and improved play of a number of people it allows me to see what the best lineup is without overthinking it."

While the forward lines have been tweaked here and there throughout the year, the team showed its most significant changes to date in this weekend's back-to-back games against the Islanders and New Jersey Devils.

Alexander Wennberg centered a line with Nick Foligno and Oliver Bjorkstrand on the wings. Sam Gagner played between Brandon Saad and Cam Atkinson. And Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner saw Josh Anderson join their line, with William Karlsson playing with Matt Calvert and Scott Hartnell.

Wennberg was held out of Sunday's game as a precaution and that moved the lines around a bit more.

Why change in the first places? Tortorella had felt a few of the lines were becoming a bit stale, but it was the arrival of Oliver Bjorkstrand that really spurred the coaching staff to look at changing things up a bit as all of the Jackets returned to full health.

"Bjorkstrand has put a different look to our team," Tortorella said. "He's going to play in an offensive position. That allows me to put some other people together, and not just look at a top six offensively but maybe a top nine offensively."

Tortorella also has been pleased with the play of Josh Anderson to date. Seeing how the 22-year-old has stepped up allowed for some flexibility when it came to changing up Dubinsky's line.

Video: John Tortorella on his recent lineup changes

The change certainly worked over the weekend. Anderson scored in New York, and each of his linemates had multi-point performances in the two games over the weekend including a game winner from Jenner. 

"It's looking at your team," Tortorella said. "We're seeing players improve over the year, we had injuries, that opened room for a call-up, and that all changes a little bit of the mechanics of the lineup. It just gives me an opportunity to look at different things. I'm not sure where it goes."

 

OTHER NOTES:

  • With a clogged lineup down the middle, Lukas Sedlak is slotted to play on the left wing Wednesday, according to Tortorella. The head coach likes Sedlak's faceoff ability, and performance on the penalty kill. Sedlak has played wing only a few times in his career. He says he expects the biggest change to be in the battles along the boards.
  • Alexander Wennberg skated with the team in Tuesday's practice. Wennberg missed Sunday's game in New Jersey after suffering a hard hit into the boards on Saturday while playing the New York Islanders.
  • With all the line changes, Sam Gagner says it doesn't take much to start clicking with new linemates. He said his line, now with Saad and Atkinson, felt like it did a good job creating chances and feeding off each other in their first period playing together Saturday.

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