As has become a trademark under interim head coach Todd Richards, the Blue Jackets prepared for their next opponent with a thorough practice this morning at the OhioHealth Ice Haus.
Tomorrow night’s game against the Minnesota Wild is the Blue Jackets’ first at Nationwide Arena since a 3-0 defeat to the Nashville Predators on Jan. 19. It was certainly a frustrating game for Columbus, which executed its game plan at even strength and was fairly disciplined as well, but Nashville got 38 saves from Pekka Rinne to keep the Blue Jackets off the board.
Facing off against the Wild will be a unique experience for Richards, who served as Minnesota’s head coach for two seasons before joining the Blue Jackets this past summer. Though this is the third meeting of the year between the two teams, it will be the first with Richards as the Blue Jackets bench boss.
“The first game of the year in their building (was emotional),” Richards said. “As I’ve told other people, the best way for me to explain it would be to go back to my high school years. When you have a girlfriend in high school and she breaks up with you, when you see her again the first time in the hallway, there’s some emotion.
“It was like that the first time, but every other time you see her in the hallway it becomes a little easier. As you get a little more distant from your time there and when you were let go, it becomes easier and easier.”
The Blue Jackets skated in the following lines and pairs for today’s practice:
BODIES ON THE MEND
The recent surge of injuries to hit the Blue Jackets has depleted both their forwards and defense corps, and they are currently missing James Wisniewski, Nikita Nikitin, Brett Lebda and Radek Martinek – some of who were or have been slotted in their top-six defensemen.
Richards said one thing that injuries take away is greater depth of competition for ice time among the players, and he hopes that as some of the injured players begin to recover, that internal drive for ice time will increase as a result.
“It’d be nice to get to that point, because ice time becomes a valuable thing, too,” Richards said. “Just putting a sweater on and getting in a game becomes valuable and a motivating thing. I think as a coach, you’re looking for different ways to motivate guys.
“Some of it is being part of the lineup, some of it is getting power play minutes. When you start getting those guys back, you get that competitiveness within the team you’re looking for.”
“The guys are skating and so that’s a step. We believe wiz and nikky and mark should all come back around the same time, and we’re thinking maybe about a week away from that. Hopefully, Valentine’s day will be a good day for us.”
“ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN”
Blue Jackets rookie center Ryan Johansen has been a healthy scratch for the last two games in Los Angeles and Anaheim. Richards said earlier this week that Johansen’s game “is not where we need it to be,” and said today that with the improved play of the group in the previous two contests, it will be difficult to make a change just to get him back in the lineup.
“Right now, he’s on the outside looking in,” Richards said. “I liked the way (the team) played (against the Kings). We went in Anaheim and I thought we battled and competed hard. It’d be tough for me, when I look at our lines and forwards up front, to decide who deserves to come out after the way our guys played.
“That’s the situation he’s in and we’re in, and he’s got to continue working hard in practice.”