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Practice Notebook: March 29

Competitive blue line pushes Jackets toward playoffs

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL / BlueJackets.com

The third defensive pair for the Jackets has had some new looks in the month of March. Kyle Quincey joined the team at the trade deadline, and has played in every game but one since. And Scott Harrington has earned his way back into the lineup, playing in four of the last six.

Both players are earning attention in their own ways. Quincey had the primary assist on the game-winning goal against Philadelphia on Saturday, and scored the first goal of the night Tuesday versus Buffalo.

Harrington not only signed a two-year extension with the team this month, his play has pushed him to the top of the Jackets' defensive ranks in in expected goals for (50.92%) in the month of March.

JACKETS SIGN TRIO TO EXTENSIONS

"He's improved as we've gone along here," head coach John Tortorella said. "I think that's because of a lot of the extra practice time and work with (assistant coach Kenny McCudden). It's a lonely job being out as much as he was. He took that time to make himself a better player and he's pushing to get himself in the lineup."

Video: Torts on his competitive blue line, upcoming schedule

Harrington says he was known primarily as a defensive player, but credits his work with McCudden for strengthening the rest of his game, including his puck skills. That development has helped him fit within the system the Jackets have instilled this year that asks its defense to serve as the "engine," driving play and joining the rush.

"It's more fun playing the game that way, supporting the rush and getting up the ice," Harrington said. "It helps out all parts of your game. If a puck gets turned over, you're out there in the play and you have a better gap. Our team also does a good job of using the defensemen jumping up, whether it be a breakout in our zone or the neutral zone. The more we talk about it, the more we can play like a five man group in every zone and be tight together."

The competition to be in the lineup remains fierce among the defensive corps. Tortorella is quick to remind you that rookie Markus Nutivaara is going to see ice time as well. But it's that competition that has, in part, fed Harrington to keep progressing on his game.

"There's always going to be guys that aren't playing," Harrington said. "They are always pushing to get in and that keeps the guy in the lineup honest and keeps them working. Obviously we're all pulling for each other, but it's healthy to have some competition to get in the lineup and then, if you're in the lineup, to get more minutes. It keeps us hungry and competitive."

Video: JJ on the team's solid defensive play of late

Other Notes:

  • The Jackets had a brisk 30-minute practice before heading to Carolina on Wednesday that included a half-ice 3-on-3 scrimmage. "That was about playing in small areas and letting them try to make plays," Tortorella said. "We have struggled making plays and our offensive guys are tight. I just tried to let them have some fun today."
  • The team is still focused day-to-day. A big set of games looms on the horizon against Carolina, Chicago, Washington and Pittsburgh. But the overriding goal for the coaches going into the playoffs is for the team to be feeling good about themselves. "We're a good team. We need to be playing fast and quick when we enter the playoffs. That's my responsibility right now. I want them to have a blast. I want to allow them to play. I think that's how they play best."
  • Oliver Bjorkstrand did not participate in practice. Tortorella says he remains day-to-day.
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