It’s safe to say at this point of the Blue Jackets’ practice and preparation schedule, the players have reached what they refer to as “game speed.”
This morning’s practice at Nationwide Arena was brief compared to those earlier this week, but was by no means a cake walk. Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel has put his group through a detailed session each morning they take the ice and today was no different. The Blue Jackets have worked hard at their zone break-out schemes and how they plan to transport the puck.
The pace and tempo are picking up by the day and think about this - there are a little more than 24 hours that separate us from the start of the Blue Jackets season, and with the Nashville Predators in town tomorrow night, the players know they will need to be sharp right from the get-go.
The Predators and coach Barry Trotz are notorious for being stingy on the defensive side of the puck, and the Blue Jackets want to be ready to exploit any opportunities they get.
“I think today’s practice was mostly about getting our legs going,” defenseman Kris Russell told BlueJackets.com this morning. “We have to be ready right when the puck drops tomorrow night, and Nashville is coming to come hard like they always do.
“It was definitely the most up-tempo practice we’ve had for a while.”
Russell and his fellow defensemen have been heavily involved in the new possession-style power play the Blue Jackets are planning to employ. Last season, he said the team struggled at times with holding on to the puck but it’s an area of much focus in practice.
“As a defenseman, if you’re the guy with the puck, (the coaches) expect us to make good plays so we can get in the zone,” Russell said. “It’s a pretty big responsibility; as a power play, maybe (puck retrival) was our weakest point last year and breaking in clean.
“Once we get in, we have the players and talent to make plays and get pucks to the net. Look at all the good teams – it seems like they can just walk into the zone. We’ve practiced that hard and it will be a test tomorrow night.”
SCOUTING THE PREDS
These guys aren’t a big rival of the Blue Jackets for no reason. Nashville brings a physical, in-your-face brand of hockey that can drive the opposition batty. The Predators have a knack for bringing out the best in other teams, especially the Blue Jackets. It’s always a spirited affair when these two clubs get together and it should be no different tomorrow night.
Nashville will be without center Mike Fisher, who is on the injured reserve and isn’t expected to play until at least the third game of the season.
The Predators are, as usual, led by their star defense pairing of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Matching Weber’s booming shot from the point with Suter’s exquisite on-ice smarts and skating makes the Predators back end of the strongest in the division. In goal, they are expected to start Pekka Rinne tomorrow night.
THE PIECES FIT THE STYLE
Compared to the Blue Jackets’ style of play in years past, Arniel’s preferred method is significantly different in many areas. The offseason acquisitions were somewhat two-fold: Arniel and general manager Scott Howson wanted to upgrade the roster in certain areas, and they also wanted to find players who were familiar with styles like Arniel’s and could play the system.
So far, it has helped Arniel and his coaching staff both on and off the ice.
“(The change has been getting) players more to play with the style we want to play,” Arniel told BlueJackets.com. “We’re a lot closer to having that type of people: mobile, smart, skilled.
“I think (this year) we do have a lot more of the pieces in place with how we want to go for 82 games.”
NEWS AND NOTES
-The three Blue Jackets rookies (Cam Atkinson, David Savard and Ryan Johansen) who requested jersey number changes practiced with their new numbers for the first time today. They will wear their new numbers on the ice tomorrow night.
-Here’s Russell, on his rookie defense partner Savard and making the transition to the NHL: “He’s going to be fine, he’s a really good player. He’s one of those guys who can slow games down and he has a lot of confidence. Of late, he’s been one of our best defensemen and I’m looking forward to playing with him. I think we can read off each other well and make plays.”