After a day spent off the ice on Tuesday, the Blue Jackets were back to work this morning at Nationwide Arena – part of a rare three-day “off” window this late in the season.
But it’s not a time to rest by any means, as Columbus will play its next four games against Metropolitan Division opponents (vs. Philadelphia, at New York Islanders, at Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh) and five of the next six, with visits to Montreal and the New York Rangers capping off a busy week ahead.
The first task, though, is a Flyers team that is in the same boat as the Blue Jackets, one that’s trying to force its way up the ladder in the Eastern Conference. They’re 12 points back of a wild card spot while playing better hockey of late, 6-2-2 in their last 10 games but coming off a 2-1 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
And with some time to prepare, the only thing missing for Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards today was healthy bodies; they had three full forward lines and five defensemen on the ice, but that number could increase as they get closer to the weekend.
“We would’ve liked to have worked on some things,” Richards said. “When you have a window of three practice days in February, you can use maybe one day for some rest and getting healthy. But we’ve had too many players banged up or on the shelf that needed two days (rest).”
Among those getting rest today were Brandon Dubinsky, Alexander Wennberg, Jack Skille and David Savard, all of whom are expected to play this weekend, Richards said.
Brian Gibbons returned to practice, as well, skating on a line with Mark Letestu and Corey Tropp. More on his return and the challenges that go along with it tomorrow on BlueJackets.com.
WIZ SKATES, COULD RETURN SOON
James Wisniewski was injured late in Friday’s win over the St. Louis Blues and did not play Saturday in Ottawa, but he skated in the OhioHealth Ice Haus this morning and could be ready for the weekend.
Richards said the only player to be considered doubtful is Dalton Prout, who suffered an upper body injury in Ottawa and did not play Tuesday against Los Angeles. As of today, Richards said the Blue Jackets are not planning to recall anyone from Springfield (AHL), as they expect to have enough healthy bodies for Friday night against the Flyers.
ANOTHER LEVEL FOR JOEY
The old adage is often repeated: your best players have to be your best players. That’s been the case lately for Ryan Johansen, who’s near a point-per-game pace this season and leads the Blue Jackets with 30 assists to go along with 20 goals (one off Nick Foligno’s team lead).
But putting the goals and points aside, Richards has liked what he’s seen from his 22-year-old No. 1 center in terms of his speed, intensity and play-making.
“I’ll use the Tampa game (on Jan. 31) in particular – he was the best player on the ice. That’s what we thought,” Richards said. “He had the puck on his stick, made plays, and he was fast. When he’s fast and he’s strong, there aren’t too many guys in the league that can stop him. As a team, we played fast (in Florida) but he was probably the table-setter.
“When your best player goes out and skates the way he did in Florida, the guys on the bench watch that and see that; everyone always says your best players need to be your best players, and your team generally follows your best players.”