As the Blue Jackets prepare to host the undefeated Chicago Blackhawks at Nationwide Arena tonight for the second home game of the season, one thing is clear: they have to be better at both ends of the ice.
“We've got to make it difficult on these guys, and it’s got to start on the first shift," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said this morning. "We can’t stick our toes in the water and see if it’s cold.
"When this thing starts, we have to jump in."
The Blue Jackets have given up a goal on the first shift in two of their four games, and Richards said tonight’s game will be a challenge to tighten things up defensively while generating offense against a team that has scored 17 goals in its first four games.
Scoring against the Blackhawks won’t be easy, however, and the Blue Jackets are going to have to be a little more than scrappy in front of Blackhawks’ goaltender Corey Crawford if they want to win the hockey game.
Nick Foligno has been one of the guys to take the beating from defenders in the crease when necessary, and according to the first-year Blue Jackets winger, the sacrifice is worth the reward.
“(It's about) being in the right place at the right time," Foligno said after today's morning skate. "That’s usually when you’re in front of the net and making things happen, and that’s something that we’re going to try to focus on tonight.
“I’m one of the guys that takes it upon myself to want to be that guy, so it’s a matter of just getting to that area. That’s something that I think if I do that, I can really help the team. It’s not gonna go in every night for you, but if you’re there more times than not, it’s going to.”
Richards said creating more traffic will not only generate more scoring opportunities during 5-on-5 play, but will increase their success on the power play, which he said was “decent.” To him, a shot on goal from the point is more likely to go in when it finds its way through an entanglement of defensemen and forwards than if the shooting lane is open.
“It’s not that you’re always shooting to score, but you have to create those scrums,” Richards said. “We have to do a better job getting to the front of the net in the offensive zone, and then it’s also a simple thing of putting pucks on the net.”
The Blue Jackets know that scoring against a team like the Blackhawks is not as simple as shooting on net, and they will need to force a grind-it-out style of play if they want to earn those two points tonight.