There were aspects of the Blue Jackets' win over the Edmonton Oilers last night that did not sit well with Todd Richards, and he used an hour-long practice today to help rectify those issues.
One thing he wanted to repair was the team's speed through the neutral zone, which was lacking in a slow-moving first period that saw the Oilers jump out to an early 2-0 lead. At that point, Richards called timeout to remind the team of what they had talked about in practice: attack with speed and put pressure on the opposition.
A four-goal rally did not come as a surprise to Richards, and he was happy with the win – but he wants to make sure the Blue Jackets come with the same energy from the drop of the puck.
"Our neutral zone transition wasn't very good last night," Richards said. “We weren't attacking with any speed and didn't establish any speed through the neutral zone for us to attack off the rush or get in on the fore-check.
"As a coach, you're always striving for perfection – you’ll never get it – but you're always striving for that."
The Blue Jackets spent much of the practice session going over their forecheck and finding different ways to create scoring chances. In last night's game, they found something in the Oilers defense that enabled them to string together a series of strong shifts eventually resulting in Derick Brassard's power-play goal with less than a second remaining in the second period.
Richards said he likes Brassard's game right now and how he has responded to an elevated role. For a 24-year-old who has experience in the NHL playing on top lines, the next step in Brassard's career should be about establishing himself, Richards said.
"He's not a first-year guy and he's not a second-year guy," Richards said. "Guys that have long careers in the NHL tend to figure it out young, and then they establish themselves. Hopefully we can get Derick to that point where he becomes an established NHL player that can contribute at both ends of the ice.
"I'm starting to see some of that now, where he's becoming a player that's dangerous when comes out on the ice. I just want to see more of that."
NASH GETTING TO ANOTHER LEVEL
Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash has picked up his game of late and it's evident in the team's play, as well. Nash now has points in three-straight games after notching an assist on Brassard’s goal vs. Edmonton, and has picked up 12-8-20 the last 27 games after being held to 1-3-4 the previous 10 games.
The last two third periods he's played (Saturday vs. San Jose, last night vs. Edmonton) have been as dangerous as he’s looked all year – and opposing defensemen are backing up when he collects the puck.
"The intensity really drives guys' games," Richards said. "When Rick is intense, into the game and physically engaged, his offensive side of the game follows.
"I still think there's another level, I still think there's more there. He's working hard and doing the things we're asking him to do and asking the other players to do."
Richards has seen the emotional toll of a challenging season wear on Nash at times, but it's his pride that motivates him to do more and lead by example on the ice. Nash has loosened up in recent games, Richards said, and that has allowed him to use all the elements of his versatile game.
"I think he's starting to become more comfortable and free-flowing in his game, but he's one of those guys that has a tremendous amount of pride," Richards said. "When you wear that 'C' on your jersey – with where we're at as a team – I think he takes that personally, and that's been a hard thing for him this year.
"He can be a physically dominant player – he can go over you, around you… there's different ways that he can play the game. There aren't too many guys in the league that can say that."
The number of Blue Jackets players on injured reserve grew by one more when R.J. Umberger was added with an upper-body injury yesterday. He joins Kristian Huselius, Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski, Radek Martinek and others currently on the shelf with injuries that have kept them out of the lineup for extended periods of time.
While none of the aforementioned players is “close” to returning, Richards said he’s optimistic with their progression and rehab.
"There’s nobody that's close that I would say within the next three, four or five days," Richards said. “But guys are progressing. Wiz is in a walking boot and able to put some weight on it and do certain things. With Kristian, it seems we take a couple steps forward and then maybe a step back.
"When you're dealing with a groin muscle, that's usually what you get. I think we're progressing, but as far as closeness, I think we’re one or two weeks away."