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Jackets Journal: November 14

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel characterized last week’s 6-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks as a “work in progress” with the changes that were implemented, and Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets he started to see results.

They greatly reduced the number of scoring chances against and made life easier for goaltender Steve Mason, who was terrific in making 35 saves. Columbus now has a chance to build upon that defensive effort tomorrow night, when a road-weary Minnesota Wild club comes into town for the first of two meetings at Nationwide Arena.

Minnesota concludes its five-game road trip which began in Calgary then continued further west to California. The Wild won a 3-2 game Sunday night against a desperate Anaheim Ducks squad and got another solid performance from goalie Niklas Backstrom. The Blue Jackets have scored first in all three of their victories this season, and getting off to a quick start will be a key yet again.

“They’re a good team,” Arniel said after practice today. “They bounced back against an Anaheim team that played really well. They’re not a team that’s heavy on the forecheck, they clog things up.

“I’m sure tomorrow night we’re going to have to work for all the space out there. They play a solid system and try to force you into mistakes. Our start will once again be important.”

Getting a good read on his club has been challenging for Arniel, given the numerous injuries and call-ups that have dressed for the Blue Jackets in the season’s first six weeks. Top-line center Jeff Carter just returned after missing 10 games, James Wisniewski missed the first eight due to suspension and the goaltending situation has only recently improved.

If the Blue Jackets are going to compete night in and night out against the top teams in the NHL, they need their depth to contribute. That was the case against the Jets, as Arniel’s new-look second line (Vinny Prospal-Mark Letestu-Ryan Johansen) accounted for both Columbus goals.

“I thought the top six we put out there were very dangerous,” Arniel said. “To have Carter’s experience… we talked all along about having someone to take the heat of the opposition away from Rick. “I think that’s finally happening; we’ve obviously mixed in a couple of new players recently, and they’re getting more comfortable in our system.”

The Blue Jackets played a more responsible game against Winnipeg, limiting the Jets forwards’ time and space in the offensive zone. When the puck was turned over, the Blue Jackets transitioned quickly and tried to catch the defense in a bad spot. Arniel said he thinks the progression is on the fast track, and he saw encouraging signs the last time out.

“In the Chicago game, we talked about tinkering with our system a bit and being better without the puck,” he said. “It was still a work in progress but we did some good things.

“Against Winnipeg, we put a lot more of it together and I liked how we started to evolve in that game.”

Goaltender Curtis Sanford was deemed “full-go” today by Arniel and said he will officially be dressed and on the bench tomorrow vs. Minnesota. Sanford was briefly placed on IR over the weekend to make room for Jeff Carter, but was reactivated yesterday when Allen York was assigned to Springfield (AHL).

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