In their victory over the Anaheim Ducks, the Blue Jackets re-discovered the work-first mentality that has served them well in the past. Now, they want that attitude to be a concrete part of their identity game in and game out.
The players see that when they put pressure on opponents and outwork them in the so-called “dirty areas” of the ice, they get rewarded with scoring chances. Steve Mason has benefitted from two relatively clean games in front of him (Detroit and Anaheim at Nationwide Arena), due in large part to the commitment of his teammates collapsing down low and blocking shots.
This morning’s practice on the main ice focused on further forging that identity. The Blue Jackets have done well out-shooting opponents of late – putting 43 shots on goal in Buffalo – but capitalizing on those opportunities comes from their working mentality. Columbus has also been able to shut down opponent power plays; in the past two games, the Blue Jackets have not allowed a power-play goal against in the last 122:24.
“Guys are being more aggressive,” defenseman Marc Methot told BlueJackets.com. “There has been a lot less hesitation, and a lot of that (improvement) has been us buying into what we have to do out there, and it’s working out for us.”
The rapid improvement in penalty-killing efficiency comes after a troublesome stretch in which the Blue Jackets yielded seven power-play goals in a span of 13 penalties. Columbus responded by whitewashing the man-advantage units of the Chicago Blackhawks and the Ducks – two teams that have a fair share of skilled players who can bury the puck.
BACK IN ACTION
Methot returned to practice this morning and took part in the full session. He suffered a scary injury to his thumb while blocking a shot against the Detroit Red Wings on October 21, and the team medical staff didn’t want Methot to return until he could comfortably grip a hockey stick.
Today was a good first step, Methot said, and he is hopeful to play Thursday night vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I feel good,” Methot told BlueJackets.com after practice. He said that the full practice showed his thumb is holding up well, and he looked crisp while participating in several “compete” drills with his teammates.
“I think it was just a matter of getting used to holding the stick again and all that stuff,” Methot said. “The hand felt pretty strong today, so hopefully everything goes as planned.”
RETURN OF THE DEX SHOW
There was more positive news on the ice today with goaltender Mark Dekanich. Dekanich has been out of the Blue Jackets lineup since the preseason, when he suffered an ankle injury in the first period against the Winnipeg Jets. He was one of three goaltenders on the ice today – a rarity since the season started for Columbus.
The rookie's ankle strength is getting better each week, he said, and the increased workload in practice is a good barometer of where he’s at physically.
“It’s good to be out here with the guys, and seeing practice action again,” Dekanich told BlueJackets.com. “I’m trying to feel better every day and get my game back – it’s been a while. I want to keep progressing and hopefully I’ll be ready to go pretty soon.”
And at this stage of his recovery, the best thing is to see more pucks.
“At this point, it’s all repetition,” Dekanich said. “I’ve been doing a lot of controlled drills, but now being in full practice it’s a lot more instinctual and reactive. It’s a good start for me and I will keep trying to push it.”
Rookie center Ryan Johansen played his ninth NHL game against the Ducks on Sunday. Per the rules of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, if he is to play a 10th game, this season will count as the first of his entry-level contract. The Blue Jackets coaching staff and management gathered in recent days to determine the best course of action for Johansen.
With two goals in the last four games (both game-winners), and vastly improved play since the start of the season, general manager Scott Howson made what the organization feels is the best move for Johansen’s career.
“We have decided to keep Ryan Johansen through the 10 game threshold which means the (first) year of his contract will apply to this season,” Howson announced via his Twitter account.