The Blue Jackets are headed to California this week, and they’re doing so without another key member of their lineup.
Goaltender Curtis McElhinney, injured in the second period of Saturday’s game in Ottawa, was placed on injured reserve on Sunday and is expected to miss at least a week with an upper body injury. McElhinney was injured on the play that led to the Senators’ second goal, after he and Nick Foligno collided in the crease while Foligno tried to break up a 2-on-1.
McElhinney was making his first start of the season after Sergei Bobrovsky started the first four games for the Blue Jackets (3-2-0). He was coming off a tremendous preseason, too, and hoping to play his way into a few more starts in 2014-15, but he’s not expected to play at any point on this upcoming road trip.
The Blue Jackets recalled Anton Forsberg from Springfield after the Falcons’ overtime loss to Bridgeport on Sunday afternoon. Forsberg has started three of the four games, going 1-2-0 with a .921 save percentage.
It’s certainly possible that Bobrovsky could play all three games in California, a stretch that begins Thursday night in San Jose. Columbus plays Friday in Anaheim and has a day off before playing an afternoon game (4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT) in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Why is the team leaving early for California? Well, they’ll practice in San Jose upon landing and have some team building exercises planned ahead of Thursday’s game at SAP Center.
Second-year defenseman Ryan Murray has not played a game this season as he recovers from a knee injury, but he has taken significant steps in the right direction of late. Murray has been practicing with the team for nearly two weeks now, and has ramped up the intensity over the last few days.
Murray did not travel with the Blue Jackets to Ottawa on the weekend but he will be on the plane to California later today. Todd Richards has maintained that a Murray return on the California swing remains a possibility, but he has not said if that could occur as soon as Thursday.
THE NHL’S DEATH VALLEY
Just before the Olympic break, the Blue Jackets made their trek through California and played three pretty solid games, going 1-1-1 on a swing that started with a 4-2 win at Honda Center in Anaheim. They dropped a 2-1 overtime decision in Los Angeles and a 3-2 decision in San Jose to close out the trip, which has now become known as “Death Valley” around the NHL.
The Western Conference is no joke, obviously, but the three California teams are three of the toughest opponents in the business. After last night’s games, the combined record of the Ducks, Sharks and Kings is 13-3-2 with a cumulative goal differential of +18, and the Ducks are the hottest of the bunch having won five straight games.
One of the pleasant surprises early in the season has been the play of Ryan Johansen and his line. Johansen, who missed all of training camp and the preseason, has wasted little time getting up to speed with seven points (three goals, four assists) in five games and his line mates have followed suit.
They’ve spent a lot of time in the offensive zone and have done well to generate opportunities while possessing the puck more often than not. The numbers say that when this group's on the ice, there's a good chance they'll make something happen.
Look at the 5-on-5 Corsi numbers for Foligno, Johansen and Atkinson:
Johansen - 58.4%
Foligno - 60.6%
Atkinson - 58.7%
Through five games, there’s little disputing that the Johansen line is the Blue Jackets’ No. 1 unit, having combined for eight goals and 19 points so far.