When the Blue Jackets took off from Columbus yesterday en route to Edmonton, there were a few questions surrounding their roster and who might not be available for tonight’s game.
The good news is that those questions appear to be answered. Brandon Dubinsky, who left practice quite early in Tuesday’s session, was deemed a question mark by Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards yesterday but he took part in today’s morning skate at Rexall Place and looks good to go this evening.
Also, Artem Anisimov, who missed practice Tuesday after what Richards called “soreness” coming out of Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, is expected to play tonight against the Oilers at Rexall Place – a place that has not been kind to the Blue Jackets over the years. In fact, it’s been over five years (Jan. 7, 2010) since Columbus picked up a win in Edmonton – predating the majority of the team’s current roster and coaching staff.
Having faced the Oilers a few days ago in a 5-4 shootout win at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets know the drill: stay out of the box and don’t give Edmonton’s red-hot power play a chance to get going.
“We’ve taken too many penalties the last three, four, five games and a lot of them are stick infractions (and) reaching for pucks instead of using our legs to check,” Richards said this morning. “We’ve got to be more disciplined in that area; these guys are feeling confident, their power play is hot and we can’t give them extra opportunities.”
Another key aspect is, of course, a good start and the Blue Jackets have had success on the road in that regard. Against an Oilers team that likes to get skating early and jump on the opposition, Richards knows a poor first period could be tough to recover from – and they need to look no further than Edmonton’s 7-0 win over them last November, arguably the Jackets’ worst loss of the season.
“These guys jumped out on Toronto (in a 4-1 win on Monday), and in this building, from what I remember, first periods are really important,” Richards said. “We’ve got to come out ready to skate, manage the puck, make sure we get pucks deep and not turn pucks over. The other part is just staying out of the box.
“First battles in the d-zone are going to be really important against this group, because once they get cycling, they get moving and there’s a lot of moving pieces and they have a lot of talented, quick forwards and a couple defensemen on the back end that can jump up and burn you.”
Based on the morning skate, it looks as though Curtis McElhinney will get the start in goal for Columbus tonight. It’s his first start since Mar. 7 vs. Colorado, and McElhinney is looking to break out of a 0-5-1 skid in his last six starts. His last victory was a 2-1 win in Pittsburgh on Feb. 19.
Big night for Kevin Connauton, who plays his first game in Rexall Place against a team he grew up watching. Connauton is Edmonton born and raised, and said he expects 10-12 friends and family in the house tonight. He grew up playing hockey at the Callingwood Recreation Centre ice rink in suburban Edmonton.