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Wennberg returns to practice, thinks he could play soon

Blue Jackets center feeling better; will be evaluated after morning skate Monday

by By Brian Hedger JacketsInsider /

The Blue Jackets had a new face at practice Sunday.

It was also a familiar face, as center Alexander Wennberg re-joined the team for the first time since leaving the lineup with an upper-body injury that's kept him out five games. Wennberg, who last played Nov. 11 in Detroit, might also return to the lineup during an upcoming back-to-back that begins Monday at Bell Centre in Montreal.

Wennberg made his first trip with the Blue Jackets since the injury knocked him out of action.

"It feels better," he said, after taking line rushes outside the top four lines at practice. "I'm going to practice in the morning [Monday], and then we'll see how it goes. We'll make a decision after that."

It's unknown where Wennberg will slot back into the lineup when he's cleared to return. In his last game before being sidelined, he centered a line that generated the Blue Jackets' lone goal in regulation during a 2-1 shootout win.

Artemi Panarin and Oliver Bjorkstrand were his wingers, and they showed some chemistry together. Since Wennberg's been out, Panarin has found a home on the left side of a line centered by rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois and right wing Josh Anderson.

It's been one of the best for Columbus the past three games, with all three forwards helping produce scoring chances and goals.

"The coaches, when I tell them I'm ready to play, they're going to put me in a spot they want me," said Wennberg, who's spent time centering both the first line and third group. "For me, it's just go out there and do my best."

Columbus coach John Tortorella has previously said he'd be open to keeping Dubois at center once Wennberg returns. If so, that would likely mean captain Nick Foligno will shift to one of the wing positions, where there's slightly less defensive coverage responsibilities and he can focus more on his offensive game.

Wennberg will be focused on sparking his offensive game, as well.

He said the injury affected him to a certain degree, and he only had nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 18 games prior to exiting the lineup. Tortorella said recently that Wennberg seems uncertain of what's being asked of him in games, which is making him think too much.

"I'm not really confused," Wennberg said. "I've just got to go back to the type of hockey player I am, and just find a way to score goals and be an offensive threat. I think that's what they're asking for. [Tortorella] is one of those guys who wants you to play all over the ice. You can't just think about offense, so there's a lot of things that have to be better. It's a great chance for me, coming back here, to prove it."

As for missing five games, allowing the injury to heal, he said it was the right call.

"There's pros and cons," Wennberg said. "Obviously, you want to be out there playing, but at [some] point you've got to do what's best for you and for the team. These decisions have to be made, and this one was the best one for the time."

News & Notes

MILANO MAKING STRIDES: Sonny Milano hasn't scored a goal in 11 games, but goals aren't what Tortorella is looking at when assessing the rookie's play. The Blue Jackets' coach is watching to see if Milano's improving away from the puck, and making better decisions once he has it.

He's passed the test the past two games, playing on Foligno's line, and the ice time reflected it. After playing 15:43 in the Jackets' 1-0 win against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, Milano played 15:00 against the Ottawa Senators on Friday, a 5-2 victory.

"I watch him very closely, and I can see him look across the ice and want to get on that backhand, and throw a floater across there," Tortorella said. "Instead, it's late in a shift and he throws it in [the offensive zone] and changes. I was screaming at him that [it] was a great play, and I'm sure he's saying, 'Man, this guy's out of his mind. I just dumped the puck in.' But that's a great play for me, for him, to allow me to trust him more."

In the past two games, Milano has logged his most ice time since Oct. 17, when he played 14:59 in a 5-2 road win against the Winnipeg Jets. In 12 games after that one, prior to playing Calgary, he topped 10 minutes just two times.  

The longer Milano is on the ice, the more he gets a chance to show off his offensive skills - like he did against the Senators with a nice exit pass to Foligno for a 2-on-1 that led to a key insurance goal in the third period.

"I thought he played really well his last game," Tortorella said. "The play he makes on Nick's goal, keeps his patience in the corner, holds onto the puck, turns and drills a cross-ice pass … not too many players can do that. We're all intrigued by his offensive abilities. It's him making steps away from the puck [that matters most]. I think he's made some steps away [from the puck]. That's why he gets a chance to play in an offensive position."

HARRINGTON BIDING HIS TIME: Scott Harrington hasn't played in the month of November, and has played just two games for the Blue Jackets this season - logging a total of 15:41 ice time. Harrington would require waivers to be assigned to the Cleveland Monsters and get more playing time in the American Hockey League, and Columbus clearly doesn't want to risk losing him.

As the Blue Jackets' seventh defenseman, he's usually a healthy scratch. Tortorella has noticed, and appreciated, the way the 24-year old is handling it.

"We're happy we have him," Tortorella said. "I know it's hard, but that's the way it is, and that's what I love about the guy. He has handled himself very well, in a couple of tough times, couple of tough years here where he just doesn't play much. But I have to make the decisions."

The Blue Jackets' top six defensemen are largely set in stone, which leaves no room for Harrington to play if Tortorella goes with a standard lineup. So, in between games he gives a strong effort in practices and works on individual skills with assistant Kenny McCudden - often as one of the only Jackets who skate in the morning on game days.

"There are other guys on the depth chart that are ahead of him, so he sits there, works hard [and] he's with [McCudden] all the time. We have directed Kenny in some of the things we'd like [Harrington] to work at when he's not playing, so he's in ready position. It's a lousy position, but 'Harry's' handled it very well. He's been a great pro."

'KORPI' STAYING SHARP: Backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo is thankful that Cleveland isn't far away from Columbus, which means he can get starts with the Cleveland Monsters on occasion to work on things in an actual game. Korpisalo has done it twice since Bobrovsky began his current run of seven consecutive starts, playing well each time.

Korpisalo did it most recently Saturday, when he made 20 saves in the Monsters' 3-2 loss to the Texas Stars at Quicken Loans Arena. The overall workload wasn't much, but he made several difficult saves.

"I think it's huge," Korpisalo said. "If I don't play here, at least there's a place where I can play. Otherwise, I would be sitting here for three weeks in a row, just practicing, and that's tough. I'm glad I can do it." 

CALVERT TRAVELS: Veteran forward Matt Calvert (upper body) made the trip to Montreal, as well. Calvert hasn't re-joined a full team practice yet, and is still on injured reserve. He isn't expected to play Tuesday.

Calvert sustained the injury Nov. 4, when he was hit hard in the neutral zone by Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi. Calvert, who was placed on IR Nov. 6, was given a three-to-four week estimated timetable to return.

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