The Blue Jackets held an optional skate at Nationwide Arena this morning after last night’s dramatic 3-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes. This will be a busy week for the club with three games in the next four nights, including a back-to-back home-and-home set with the Western Conference leading St. Louis Blues over the weekend.
But for now, the focus shifts to the Los Angeles Kings. Tomorrow’s opponent is in a familiar position – fighting for its playoff life and clinging to postseason hope despite playing better hockey of late. The Kings currently sit in ninth place, but are tied in points with San Jose (8th) and Colorado (10th) with 74 points. Based on games played, the Kings and Avalanche are on the outside looking in.
Needless to say it’s a big game for Los Angeles, much like the Blue Jackets’ previous three contests were for the Coyotes and Avalanche. With Columbus playing better hockey of late, it’s clear now that opposing teams aren’t getting an easy night.
Blue Jackets interim head coach Todd Richards said Steve Mason will start in goal tomorrow vs. the Kings, and the lineup is expected to remain the same.
Here are yesterday’s lines and the projected lineup vs. Los Angeles:
SECOND LINE STARTING TO COOK
When Richards assembled the Blue Jackets’ second line, he envisioned Mark Letestu’s faceoff prowess being a possession asset, Vinny Prospal’s playmaking and veteran smarts as an offensive asset, and Cam Atkinson’s speed and wrist shot as a dual threat. Those elements are starting to come together, and Prospal’s deft pass to Jack Johnson set up the 2-0 goal last night vs. Phoenix.
Atkinson said the more they play together, the more comfortable the trio will get.
“I think we’re doing everything we possibly can to score some goals,” Atkinson told BlueJackets.com. “We’re getting some pretty good opportunities – some great opportunities – and those will start going in for us pretty soon.
“Once they do, we’ll be rolling. We’ve had some really good chemistry over the past week.”
The steady veterans have been good sources of information for Atkinson, and the rookie forward has no reservation when seeking guidance from his line mates. In fact, they encourage it.
“(Prospal and Letestu) have brought me in and helped me out,” he said. “They keep talking to me and telling me what I need to do. It’s good to hear it from those guys, because they’ve been around the block and know what it takes to be successful in this league. It’s fun playing with those guys.”
His line has created scoring chances in several different ways: off the rush, from in-zone cycles and on the power play. The versatility of all three forwards has an effect on that, Atkinson said, but though they aren’t the biggest players, their competitiveness makes the line a tough match for any team.
“When people doubt you and tell you that you won’t make it because of your size, you have to use that as motivation,” Atkinson said. “That’s what I’ve been doing since day one. I don’t care how big any guy is – I like to go in the corners and battle.
“If you want to score goals you have to go the front and to the greasy areas. It’s hard to score goals in this league, but we’re getting chances and guys are going hard to the net.”
NIKITIN CATCHES A BREAK
Richards expects Nikita Nikitin to be able to suit up for tomorrow’s game, and that is good news for the Blue Jackets considering the potential severity of the injury. Nikitin blocked a shot in second period that caromed off his foot, and did not return to the game.
Nikitin skated this morning, Richards said, and if all goes well in the morning, he should play against the Kings.
“He was hurting last night, and we came in today not expecting him to be able to play tomorrow,” Richards said. “He went out and skated and said it felt much better. He’ll skate again tomorrow. We’ll see, but he should be ready to go tomorrow.”