In roughly 48 hours, the Blue Jackets will be looking in the rear-view mirror at the two-week period of preparation we call “training camp,” and the 2011-12 season will be under way.
Take moment and a deep breath. It’s almost here.
As we’ve discussed in this space during the past week or so, the little details are still at the top of the list for the Blue Jackets coaching staff. With one practice and a morning skate remaining until Friday’s game against the Nashville Predators, Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel has conducted thorough and demanding skates since camp opened.
Practice lasted more than an hour this morning, and the focus was once again system work and special teams. The power play units spent a lot of time nailing down zone entry and puck movement schemes, including low-to-high cycles and generating net traffic.
“It’s really good for us (as a power play unit) to get this time to practice and work everything out,” forward Vinny Prospal told BlueJackets.com. “Obviously, our penalty-kill guys know what we’re going to do in practice, but we have to know the foundation and learn how we want to enter the zone.”
The screens and net traffic are essential features of a successful power play, and aspects the Blue Jackets are working hard to improve, Prospal said.
“To be good, you have to be a shooting power play,” he said. “If you don’t do that, you won’t get many chances to score.”
FULL SPEED AHEAD FOR D-MAC
Center Derek MacKenzie returned to practice with the team this morning and was deemed ready to play once the regular season begins. He underwent two hard-skating, endurance testing workouts with strength and conditioning coach Kevin Collins while the club was in Oxford, Ohio.
Today, Arniel said MacKenzie’s lower-body injury is healed and he will be a player available for selection on Friday night.
The Blue Jackets roster now stands at 23 players with the NHL’s roster deadline passing at 3 p.m. In order to get down to the final number, general manager Scott Howson announced LW Alexandre Giroux was assigned to Springfield (AHL).
It took a couple of weeks to sort things out, but for the time being, Arniel plans to use Prospal on the No. 1 line and power-play unit with Jeff Carter and Rick Nash.
Several other players got a shot on the left wing during training camp, but the coaching staff likes Prospal’s playmaking ability and intelligence with the puck. His knack for retrieving and hanging on to pucks only figures to give the Blue Jackets’ top line more possession time – something Arniel hopes is a theme for that trio throughout the season.
Prospal has played top-line minutes on a regular basis during his 17-year career, most notably with the Tampa Bay Lightning and star center Vincent Lecavalier. Simply put: he’s no stranger to playing at a high level with elite players.
“Right now, it’s getting Vinny on that wing and getting the three of them all on the same page,” Arniel said this morning.
“They’ve been really good in practice the last three or four days.”
NEWS AND NOTES FROM THE RINK
-With heavy special teams work this past week, some of the pairings have switched around and Arniel is trying several combinations. Rookie defenseman David Savard has been taking shifts with the No. 1 power play group, pairing with Fedor Tyutin.
-The rookie uniform number changes that were confirmed earlier this week have made their way to the team locker room. All locker stalls are updated with new player numbers, including Ryan Johansen (19), Cam Atkinson (13) and Savard (58).
-Steve Mason took a shot in practice high off the shoulder/neck area from Antoine Vermette. It appeared to sting Mason and he was in pain for a couple of minutes. He shook it off and finished practice with no ill effects.