Last week after a poor outing against the Carolina Hurricanes, coach Todd Richards gave his team a wake-up call. Today was the opposite end of the spectrum for the Blue Jackets, after an effort in Washington that Richards was generally pleased with despite a 4-2 losing result. This time, there was a little more fun.
“Sometimes when you’re going through (a losing streak), the fun goes away first,” said Nick Foligno. “Obviously this isn’t a fun time right now, but you do need to make your own fun sometimes. It brings out the best in everybody. It keeps the room light and sometimes you don’t feel so heavy out there.”
After a series of passing and skating drills for the first half of practice, both nets were pulled down to one end zone. Players played 3-on-3 mini-games the width of the rink, much like the skill games youth players use in camps and clinics.
The games are meant to be fun, but also require players to sharpen their skills by making plays on a tighter surface.
“I thought the coaches did a great job of putting together a practice like that for us to enjoy and to get some skill work going, too,” said Foligno. “Goals are important and many times when you work on those things it’s going to help you.”
To wrap up practice, the team put an interesting spin on the traditional breakaway competition. Rather than the usual "last man standing format," players were called out to shoot and their teammates would choose a side of the ice depending on whether they believed that player would score or not.
The group that guessed incorrectly would take a sprint across the ice and back.
Some players were better gamblers than others. Shortly after missing his own shot, Dalton Prout bet against Ryan Johansen and lost, bumping Johansen to the boards as he skated his lap.
On the next shot, Prout changed his mind in the middle of his team mate's breakaway and switched sides. He guessed wrong. Always trust your first instinct.
Other stuff from around the rink:
* Jack Johnson will return to the lineup on Friday night after serving a three-game suspension for his hit on Jiri Tlusty on Nov. 4.
Richards believes Johnson is a major difference at his and looks forward to his return.
“When he’s at his best, he’s that dominant guy down low in battles because he’s so powerful," Richards said. "And he’s got to be a guy on our back end that drives that intensity because he’s capable of doing that and driving the team. He did that last season.”
* Artem Anisimov returned to practice, wearing a red ‘no contact’ jersey. He took part in the skating drills in the first half of practice, but did not take part in the small-ice game. Richards called his return a ‘very good sign’ and added that Anisimov would be re-evaluated today, and more information will be available tomorrow. He wouldn’t rule Anisimov out for Friday in Philadelphia.
* Another player whose return may be sooner than later is Sergei Bobrovsky.
“He’s doing more, he’s another guy that’s really close so he’s possible for Friday,” said Richards.
* Missing from the skate were James Wisniewski, Cam Atkinson, and Fedor Tyutin with maintenance days. Matt Calvert, Brandon Dubinsky, and Jack Skille all skated in a private session at the OhioHealth Ice Haus. Richards wouldn’t specifically update the status of Calvert or Skille for Friday, but did not rule anyone out.
* Friday marks the return of Scott Hartnell to Philadelphia, where he played for seven seasons.
“Usually these are the games where the players rally around that guy because they know it’s an important game for him. And when it’s important for him, it’s important for the whole group,” said Richards of Hartnell’s return. “I think everyone’s disappointed in our record, it doesn’t matter where we’re going or who we’re playing. We’re disappointed in where we’re at right now. What a great place to have an opportunity to turn it around and get a win.”