On this day of giving thanks in the United States, the Blue Jackets were excited and grateful to have one of their key players back at practice for the first time this season.
Out since early October after abdominal surgery, Brandon Dubinsky joined the team for a full practice and was a mostly-full participant, taking line rushes and reps as he ramps back up toward game shape and an eventual return to the lineup.
But let’s get this settled quickly: Dubinsky will not play this weekend as the Blue Jackets go back-to-back with the Vancouver Canucks on Friday at Nationwide Arena and then travel to Nashville to face the Predators on Saturday. Dubinsky’s return is not far off on the horizon, but in the meantime, the Blue Jackets want to get him acclimated to the normal routine before taking the next step.
“It was great to have him out on the ice,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. “It’s a step in the right direction. (It) didn’t look like the speed or anything like that, like he was out of place – but you could tell that he hadn’t been out there in a while. The more reps you get, the more opportunities he gets to skate with us, the better.”
Looking further than the coming weekend, the Blue Jackets play Monday night at home against the Florida Panthers before traveling to Florida for games against the same Panthers (Thursday) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (Saturday). It’s a possibility – merely a possibility at this point – that Dubinsky could make his season debut sometime in the next week or so.
MAINTENANCE FOR JOEY
Ryan Johansen did not practice with the Blue Jackets today, and in his place, Dubinsky took most of the reps on the No. 1 line with Scott Hartnell and Nick Foligno. Today was a maintenance day for Johansen, who is “banged up,” Richards said. He’s expected to play against his hometown Canucks on Friday.
THE NOT-SO-FRIENDLY CONFINES
If you’re looking for reasons why the Blue Jackets have struggled in their first 21 games, yes, the injury issues jump to the top of the list. But not far behind are their issues on home ice; the Blue Jackets’ three wins at Nationwide Arena (3-7-1) are tied for second-fewest in the NHL, and only the San Jose Sharks have fewer (2-4-2).
Why is that? It’s clearly eating at the coaches and players, especially after they played so well at home in 2013-14.
“We accomplished so much over the last couple of years, and getting back to that (playing well at home),” Richards said. “It’s expected when you’ve done something, it becomes an expectation, a standard, and we haven’t been there. We haven’t gotten up to that standard. I think the fans know the situation but that’s no excuse, we can still play better. I think we can play harder. I’ve said it before with Midwest fans in general: (they want) an honest effort, and they know it and they see it. And they appreciate that.”
“There have been games when it hasn’t been there. The Detroit game (5-0 loss on Nov. 18) in particular stands out and that’s bothersome. It’s bothersome to me. It’s that consistency, the same thing we went through last year with good game, bad game. We have to find consistency and that honest effort every night.”