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Jackets Journal: October 20

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets’ final practice before departing for Detroit was a crisp, hour-long session focused on bringing their identity to the forefront.

All week long, they have rebounded from what the coaches and players referred to as their worst performance of the year in Dallas. A hard practice the following Sunday led into a week of detail-oriented practices that emphasized a work-first mentality; an attitude toward shooting pucks from all angles at all times that the Blue Jackets hope will lead more goals.

Today’s line combinations were the same from Tuesday’s game at home against the Stars, and coach Scott Arniel said this morning he expects defenseman Aaron Johnson to remain in the lineup. Johnson made a nice play in the first period on Tuesday that appeared to lead to a goal for Columbus, but officials disallowed the goal because of incidental contact in the crease.

Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash has always been a regular shooter of the puck, and he told that applying a lot of what the team did against the conservative Stars defense will benefit them against a possession team like Detroit.

“We’ve got to worry about what we’re doing rather than the opposition,” Nash told Blue “But we still have to create more offense, through taking a lot of shots and generating scoring chances.

“The next step is we have to bear down and bury them.”

Arniel said the Blue Jackets’ veteran players have stressed to the group practicing harder is a good tonic for a struggling team. Vinny Prospal is thrilled to score goals both in games and in practice, and he has been mentioned as one of those most vocal about upping the ante in practice.

“If you put the work in (during) practice, concentrate and focus and bear down on passing, bear down on scoring goals and bear down on system stuff – it makes the games that much easier,” Arniel said. “That’s an area where we have to improve.

“There’s a noticeable difference (of late), but it can still be better.”

On the injury front, defenseman Marc Methot took part in the full practice for the second consecutive day, and all signs point to him playing tomorrow night against the Detroit Red Wings.

Grant Clitsome

That’s a phrase you will hear often from Arniel, a big proponent of shooting the puck with force from all over the ice. When players try to make finesse plays or shoot in a specific spot, shots are blocked and scoring chances are nullified.

If players aim to shoot the puck “through the net” on every single scoring opportunity, it creates positive habits both in practice and during games in terms of finishing plays.

“When a defenseman has time to take a slap shot - to me - it should always be a slap shot,” Arniel said. “Some guys think that maybe it’s better to put more direction on it or shoot for an easy deflect. Put heat on it because after that you don’t know where it’s going, and the goalie doesn’t know where it’s going. It’s creating a rebound and it becomes a mad scramble.

“When you have a chance to pound the puck at the goaltender, you need to do that.”

One of the players high on the list for Columbus is defenseman Grant Clitsome. After being recalled early last season and making an immediate impact on the blue line, Clitsome is one of Arniel’s go-to guys on the power play because of his heavy, accurate slap shot.

“(Clitsome) has the ability to pound the puck; he can fire that puck and when Wiz gets in here, he has the ability to shoot the puck,” Arniel said. “When you can throw that heat from the top – it’s no different than when we were playing against Souray the last couple of games or against Weber – you have to know where they are on the ice.

“If we can bomb pucks as much as possible, we need to do that.”

Arniel also wants his team to realize how much of its identity came out in Tuesday’s loss to the Stars. When the Blue Jackets had success last year, they were suffocating on the forecheck and used their puck pursuit to create turnovers.

That aggressive style of game brought wins for the Blue Jackets, and Arniel said if they play as hard as they’ve been practicing, the wins will come. Playing an in-your-face style of hockey tends to back opponents off and allows the Blue Jackets to dictate the tempo – a key to success when playing teams like Detroit.

Columbus totaled 40 shots on goal and 20 scoring chances against the Stars neutral-zone trap brand of game, a clear sign they were the more aggressive club.

“We saw some of it against Nashville, a little of it against Vancouver… the two road games it wasn’t very good,” Arniel said. “We’ve got to establish our forecheck (on the road); if you want to make it tough on Detroit, you have to get them in their end. If you allow them to use their skill and get away from you, they’re going to be dangerous.

“We need to hem their defense, and their skilled forwards to play in their end of the rink. We need that identity back, and to me, the last game we hounded a team that plays a defensive game and sat back. We got after them, and with Detroit we can’t be any different. We have to be a menace and make sure we’re in their face all the time.”

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