Alexander Wennberg isn't the only Blue Jackets player off to a slow start, but his struggles do have a larger impact than some others.
He's supposed to be the top center, but his decline from last season's play has already resulted in a stint where he was moved to the third line. He's supposed to be a key cog on the Jackets' first power-play unit, where he dished out 21 of 46 assists last year, but the past two games he hasn't played a second of man-advantage time.
That was coach John Tortorella's latest attempt to light a fire under Wennberg, who had 59 points in 80 games last season (13 goals, 46 assists).
"He's a better player than he's played," Tortorella said Thursday, after a practice that Wennberg missed for a maintenance day off. "We've had 1-on-1 meetings. We've showed video. We've gone through the gamut. Sometimes, you know what? You lose ice time."
Wennberg is actually averaging more ice time through the first 16 games this season than he did last year, but recently Tortorella has begun to keep him on the bench more in situations he'd normally get sent into the game.
Being taken off the power play is the most noticeable.
"I hope he jams it to me," Tortorella said. "I hope he shows me that, 'What the hell [are] you doing?' because I'm sure a lot of [reporters] are saying, 'What the hell is he doing?' I'm doing it because I need to get his game to where it [needs to be]. I think he's a great player, but he's not playing great right now, and quite honestly, he's been given a lot of rope to try to get his game together. I believe he will. I think, little by little, his game is beginning to come, but I'm not going with, 'Put him on the power play to get his game going.' I've tried that."
Wennberg, 23, has one goal, five assists and six points. Only one of the assists was during a power play, which is also a byproduct of the Blue Jackets' power play struggling to score.
Still, Wennberg is in the first year of a six-year contract extension he signed with the Blue Jackets on Sept. 1, and he's on pace for five goals, 33 assists and 38 points over the course of 82 games.
"I've got to be more aggressive, skate more and I've got to get involved in the game," Wennberg said. "Obviously, they want me to score goals and make points. It's something you've got to work on, but you've got to start with the small things, and after that you're building on something."
He could start by getting back to his usual standard of play as quickly as possible.
"A little bit of onus has to be done with the player here, also, to try and get himself straightened out," Tortorella said. "If he does, and I think he will - I have confidence that he will - we're going to be a much better team and he's going to be a much better player."
As for "jamming" it to Tortorella with improved play?
"It's up to me to show it, then, right?" Wennberg said. "Obviously, you want to play as much as you can, but Torts is fair. He plays the guy he thinks is best, and right now I'm not playing good enough. So, it's not a matter of what Torts does. It's a matter of what I do with my ice time. If I start to play good again, I'll earn more ice time."
NEWS & NOTES
SIGNS OF LIFE FOR POWER PLAY: The Blue Jackets haven't scored a power-play goal in three games, going a combined 0-for-9. All were losses, to the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Nashville Predators, who went 4-for-4 killing penalties Tuesday in a 3-1 victory against the Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
Columbus has scored just five goals in 48 man-advantage opportunities (10.4 percent), but Tortorella was happier with the effort against the Predators.
"I think they're beginning to play themselves into a situation where it starts working," he said. "I like the puck movement. I still think we're over-passing at certain times, but we make a great play to tie the game up [against Nashville], and we just don't finish."
The play he referenced happened with 3:31 left in the third period. The Blue Jackets were on a power play, trailing 2-1.
Cam Atkinson sent a pass to Nick Foligno from behind the net to slot, and Foligno quickly fed it to Zach Werenski just inside the bottom half of the right circle. Werenski had a wide opening on the right side of the net for a target, but his shot went wide of the right post.
"It's one of those goals I would've obviously liked to score, but you've got to take the good with the bad, and it was just one of those bad moments," Werenski said. "It's a hard game, and that was a tough moment that I'd like to have back, but I can't dwell on it."
CARLSSON'S RETURN: Gabriel Carlsson logged 5:52 against Nashville, but was happy just to play after missing 11 games with an upper-body injury sustained Oct. 13 against the Rangers. Carlsson was used as a seventh defenseman, after Tortorella went with 11 forwards against the Predators.
He was mixed into the playing rotation and paired with multiple defense partners. Carlsson was beaten on the Predators' first goal, with Viktor Arvidsson getting past him up the right wing and passing to Matt Irwin for the shot.
"You try to keep focused as much as possible," Carlsson said. "Once you get out there and get a few shifts, it gets a little bit easier along the way, but I'm just trying to make the most of it and earn the ice time you get, and go from there."
OTHER NEWS: Forwards Zac Dalpe, Foligno and Wennberg each missed practice Thursday at Nationwide Arena. Dalpe is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, while Foligno and Wennberg had maintenance days off. They're both expected to play against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday. … Tortorella didn't rule out going with 11 forwards again. If he goes with 12 forwards and six defensemen, Carlsson and Scott Harrington will likely be healthy scratches.