And so, it begins.
The Blue Jackets took the ice this morning for an hour-plus practice on the main ice at Nationwide Arena, beginning final preparations for their opening night showdown with the Calgary Flames. It was very business-like today for Todd Richards and his coaching staff, hitting hard on some systems items and also getting the players revved back up after a light weekend.
First, some housekeeping items: the Blue Jackets were without Artem Anisimov (day-to-day), Nikita Nikitin (illness), Marian Gaborik (personal) and Jared Boll (upper body) for today's skate. According to Richards, three of the four - save for Boll - are expected back in the coming days if all goes well. Richards wasn't ready to rule out Boll for opening night, but he admitted it was a bit of a long shot.
Derek MacKenzie returned to practice today and it's a step in the right direction for his recovery. He sported a red non-contact sweater and didn't skate with a set line, but took part in several drills and looked good in his first practice back.
"Really good sign," Richards said. "We'll know more tomorrow and see how he feels tomorrow, and if we can take it another step, we'll take it another step."
Here's how the lines looked today - and mind you, they were missing an entire line of players so only three full units were in use...
Jenner - Dubinsky - Comeau **
Calvert - Johansen - Atkinson
Umberger - Letestu - Foligno
And the defense pairs...
Murray - Wisniewski
Tyutin - Johnson
Erixon - Savard
**Comeau was skating in Gaborik's normal RW spot today.
Some other notes from today:
- Richards said Gaborik is en route to Columbus from his native Slovakia, where was tending to a family matter over the weekend. He's expected back tonight and on the ice for practice tomorrow morning.
- Anisimov's injury is the same one which caused him to miss the third period of the final exhibition game, Richards confirmed. He's listed as day-to-day.
- As for line combinations, Richards said he's looking intently at line combinations in practice this week after he and his assistants put them together in the last few days. He acknowledged part of their thinking was trying to find more offense from Ryan Johansen, who was used in mostly a shutdown role at the end of last season.
"I know with (Umberger and Foligno) last year, he was pretty good," Richards said of Johansen. "That line was pretty good...but can we get more offensive output? It's no different with Anisimov. We have lots of pieces that we can try and move around and use in different spots."
- Today's comedy was Richards referencing Lloyd Christmas of "Dumb and Dumber" fame, when asked if there was a chance the Blue Jackets would name a captain this week: "So you're saying I got a chance? It would be a real low percentage."