The Blue Jackets close out their season series with the Los Angeles Kings tonight at Nationwide Arena, and for coach Todd Richards, there are some similarities to the last opponent they faced on home ice.
Much like the St. Louis Blues, the Kings are a big, physical and structured team that makes you pay for mistakes. They’ve not won two Stanley Cups in the last three seasons by mistake, even though they’re currently in a fight for a playoff spot (five points back of the West’s second wild card spot).
“I’m expecting a real desperate group,” Richards said. “These guys…they’re winners. They’re defending champions and they’ve won two out of the last three years. They’re in a desperate spot right now, battling for every point. They had a big win in Tampa. I’m expecting this group to come out and play hard.
“They’ll challenge you. If you’re not ready to compete, they can make you look bad.”
It’s also the 1,000th career game for Scott Hartnell (in case you hadn’t heard), something Richards expects his players to rally around as it’s a special night for a beloved guy in their dressing room.
"It’s an important night for a teammate," Richards said. "It seems like those important nights become important to the group. I would think, and I expect us to come out and play with some good energy.
“It says a lot that you get to 1,000 games. A lot of guys have played in this league and there’s not too many who have gotten to the 1,000 game marker. It says a lot about the player and the person. If you don’t have that competitiveness…you aren’t going to survive in this league. You just won’t. Over the course of his career, he’s brought things to his teams and to the organizations.”
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER INJURY
A few short days ago, the Blue Jackets were carrying nine healthy defensemen and Richards was getting plenty of questions about the thinking behind their roster makeup.
How quickly things have changed.
Injuries to Ryan Murray (high ankle sprain) and James Wisniewski on Friday night meant the Jackets had to get two of those extra defensemen into the mix, and that’s where Dalton Prout and Cody Goloubef stepped in and did a solid job against Ottawa. But Prout suffered an upper body injury in Saturday’s win over the Senators and is unavailable tonight.
Richards said Prout is day-to-day, and it’s possible that he and/or Wisniewski could return by the weekend for games against Philadelphia and the New York Islanders.
Here were the Blue Jackets’ defense pairs this morning: Leopold-Goloubef, Connauton-Savard, Tyutin-Johnson.
BIG MAC STEPS UP
Curtis McElhinney makes his third straight start tonight for the Blue Jackets. He started both games on the weekend gave up only two goals – one in each win over St. Louis and Ottawa. He was particularly good against the Senators (34 saves), with the Blue Jackets playing their second game in as many nights and encountering a bit of penalty trouble in the first period and heavy legs in the third.
In his last eight games, McElhinney is 6-2-0 with a 2.15 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, which Richards believes is due in part to regular playing time and also to the team’s improved play in front of him.
“He’s playing more, so he’s getting into a rhythm and your game generally follows,” Richards said. “He’s playing very well right now, and this goes back a month, two months ago when we were spotting him in with Bob. He was going in and playing really well. Our team game has been better in front of him, too – we weren’t good in front of him (earlier in the year). It’s tough to get confidence if the group in front of you isn’t playing very well.”