The Blue Jackets convened at Nationwide Arena this morning for a practice intended to re-group after last night’s loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
All healthy players skated today in advance of tomorrow night’s matchup against the Winnipeg Jets, the Blue Jackets’ first-ever game with the reborn franchise. Center Jeff Carter was among those that took part in the full 45-minute session today, and signs are positive he may return to the lineup to face the Jets.
|Jeff Carter |
Getting back to game speed isn’t something Carter was overly concerned with earlier in the week, saying he typically readies himself quickly. Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel has tried a trio of players as the center on Rick Nash’s line with some success, but no doubt is anticipating the return of his top center.
Carter showed no ill effects from a foot injury that’s kept him out of the past 10 games, and Arniel said keeping Carter for the full practice is a good sign he’s inching closer to playing in games.
“I don’t know if he’s 100 percent but that was a big step, having him on a line and going full-bore,” Arniel said. “We tried to keep him in all the drills to get a good feel of where he is.
“I think he’s a lot closer, and we’re hoping that he’s in there tomorrow.”
For the second straight game, the Blue Jackets will face a team looking to make amends for a poor performance in its previous game. The Jets were beaten 5-2 by the Florida Panthers two nights ago at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, a game in which the Panthers led 4-0 after two periods and Kris Versteeg recorded a hat trick.
One attribute of the Jets is their determination around the net, Arniel said. Winnipeg coach Claude Noel implores his players to get to the “greasy areas” of the ice and make it difficult for goaltenders to see the puck. That’s one thing the Blue Jackets will look at heading into tomorrow’s game.
“(The Jets) really crash the net,” Arniel said. “They have people on top of your goaltender all the time. They have people like Byfuglien and Bogosian that can bomb pucks from the top. They had a long eastern road trip and had a chance to win a lot of those games. “The goaltender Pavelec is playing extremely well for them; they lost last night and I’m sure they’ll look to turn things around.”
CHANGING THE MIX
The Blue Jackets announced a trade with the St. Louis Blues this morning, sending defenseman Kris Russell to St. Louis in exchange for defenseman Nikita Nikitin. The 6-foot-3, 217 pound native of Omsk, Russia debuted with the Blues last season, playing in 41 games and earning a +1 rating.
In the deal, the Blue Jackets were looking to alter their defense a bit, Arniel said. Nikitin’s upside as a strong, defending defenseman is coupled with a decent shot from the point and ability to make a good first pass. Nikitin was driving from St. Louis to Columbus to join his new team this afternoon, Arniel said, and he is expected to play against Winnipeg.
“I think it’s more about us changing our mix, changing our look on the back end,” Arniel said. “Obviously our scouts and Scott (Howson) think this guy can play a well-rounded game for us.
“I’m not going to put any label on him yet because I haven’t seen him a whole lot. We’ll get him here, put him in a lot of different situations and see what works.”
Trades are always two-fold, and the saying is “you give up something to get something.” Arniel said it was difficult to see Russell go, but acknowledged that trades are another part of the business of hockey.
“You have to make a move to make yourself better some times, and you lose good people,” he said. “We lost a good person in Kris Russell.”
In the past week, the Blue Jackets have gotten used to having three healthy goaltenders on the ice for practice with the return of Mark Dekanich. Even though Dekanich is currently with minor-league Springfield on a rehab assignment, there was more good news on the goalie injury front today.
Curtis Sanford rejoined the team for practice today donning brand-new baby blue leg pads in accordance with the team’s third jersey. Sanford went down with a groin injury about three weeks ago and is close to game-ready.
The three (possibly four) goaltender situation is rare, but when it happens, it comes down to staying sharp in the event your name is called.
“Things have really progressed quickly, I think we’re right on the timeline we first expected after the injury took place,” Sanford told BlueJackets.com. “It’s nice to be out there, nice to be practicing and facing some NHL shots again.
“I’m just working on getting into game shape; it’s one thing to be in shape in the training room, and another to be on the ice and be in good shape.”