Todd Richards wanted his team to have a better start against the Calgary Flames than they did Tuesday night against the Stars. He wanted them to be quicker with their decision making and be more tenacious on the puck.
Who better to lead the charge than a forward unit he threw together on Friday morning?
Jack Skille was pushed up from his early-season fourth line spot at the morning skate on Friday to join Mark Letestu and Matt Calvert, once it was determined that Marko Dano would miss the game with an undisclosed ailment.
Skille said after the skate that he thought it was a good fit, and that Letestu and Calvert were smart players with speed and that they would be able to work well together. Skille was proven right early on in the Jackets' 3-2 win over Calgary, and the entire line earned honors as stars of the game.
The new line mates were tested right away as Richards started the game with the Letestu line. The Jackets’ forecheck pressure was noticeably stronger out of the gate than on Tuesday night, generating opportunities and causing problems for Calgary on the breakout.
In only their second shift of the game, Letestu’s line would convert.
Off a cross-corner dump in by Skille, Calvert was able to beat Flames defenseman TJ Brodie to the half-wall and chip the puck down low to Letestu.
With the Flames caught up-ice, the Jackets had numbers deep in the zone. Skille darted to the back post and fired home a pinpoint Letestu feed to put the Jackets in front just 2:59 into the game.
“[Letestu] and [Calvert] are smart players and make good decisions,” said Skille. “Coaches rely on players like that.”
All three were heavily relied on, and the line cashed in for another tally in the second period, rewarded for their strong net-front presence in front of Flames goaltender Karri Ramo.
James Wisniewski’s shot-pass to the back post was chipped on goal by Letestu, dribbled behind Ramo, and was jammed home by Calvert for his first goal of the season.
Beyond the offensive jump, the trio brought just what they were supposed to bring: energy and grit. And together or apart the Letestu line mates were on the ice late in the third period protecting a one-goal lead.
The reason? Trust.
“We had our legs tonight,” said Calvert. “I think [Richards] put some trust in us to win some battles and we did that. If we get more of that and more ice time, it’s going to be a fun season.”
Richards echoed that sentiment, refusing to even label that line his third line. It was appropriate, as it was the strongest line of the night.
“I trust them,” said Richards. “They contributed in the offensive zone, they were reliable in their own zone, [Letestu] was very good on face-offs tonight. There were lots of reasons to continue to put them out on the ice.”