The Blue Jackets caught a flight to Philadelphia this afternoon, but not before they logged an hour-long practice session focused on a greater attention to detail.
Fresh off a disappointing 4-1 loss at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel wanted to review aspects of the team’s transition game and defensive-zone coverage before facing another high-octane team in the Flyers tomorrow night. Philadelphia is off to a strong start at 7-4-2, and Wells Fargo Center is notorious for being a place unkind to opponents. The Flyers have scored 47 goals this season, more than any other team in the Eastern Conference.
“In Philly, they’re a tough team to play against in their rink,” Arniel said. “Every game is a challenge for us now, trying to get ourselves righted here. We did a lot of good things last night, but we’ve got to be better.
“We haven’t won on the road yet. Getting a win there would be a good kick for our team.”
Though their record does not show it, the Blue Jackets have improved several aspects of their game in the past two weeks. Their power play broke out of its early-season slump, James Wisniewski has added a spark and reliable presence on the back end and they’ve seen progress on their forechecking and systems play.
What they have not gotten, however, is results. Arniel said the key to remain focused and avoid frustration is to maintain persistence.
“You have to find solutions,” he said. “You have to find something that motivates the players the next day, something that you have to work on that improves your hockey team or improves individual play. You can’t roll over and play dead – I’ve been harping that to the players, and that’s something I have to make sure to do and something my coaches do.
“It’s easier to be a coach when you’re winning; these are the times that are hard. We’ve got to keep hammering away at it.”
PUMPING UP THE PK
Penalty-killing plagued the Blue Jackets in a troublesome stretch two weeks ago, a period in which they managed to kill just six of 13 penalties. Once they left Buffalo, it started to turn around and much of the improvement is due to a strong commitment from the players.
The Maple Leafs did not score on two power-play attempts last night and were relatively ineffective on both tries. Columbus’ penalty killers have killed off 10-straight penalties in the past three games, including a 5-for-5 effort against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“We’ve made some adjustments,” Arniel said. “In this case our penalty kill was a glaring area that was jumping out at us, especially on the road. We broke it down into sections and chopped the ice into quarters... what were we doing in the corners when it came to pressure, how were we attacking the top, were we allowing them to get to the middle of the ice?
“We looked at all the goals (against), then the scoring chances that came from it. In practices this week we really tried to clean that area up. It’s got everyone on the same page and back to being aggressive like we need to be.”
That aggressive mentality has enabled the Blue Jackets penalty-killing unit to take away time and space of the opponents and as a result, fewer scoring opportunities are being generated against them.
“At the start of the year, if you look at the way we were killing penalties, we were giving up quality chances and goals,” defenseman Kris Russell told BlueJackets.com. “The guys are sacrificing, staying tight and making strong plays. When they have the puck on their stick, it’s going 200 feet down the ice.
“We’ve a much better job of attacking them, making it hard for them to make plays and getting the puck out of the zone.”
Wisniewski and Derek Dorsett were absent from practice today, but are expected to play tomorrow against the Flyers. Arniel said it was a maintenance day off for both players, describing them as “banged up.”