The first game back home from a long road trip is often one of the most difficult to play. The Blue Jackets are looking to avoid a homecoming letdown tonight against a Buffalo Sabres team that sits at the bottom of the NHL standings, but has proven that it can give any team in the league a tough night at the rink.
Buffalo took the Nashville Predators to a shootout in a 1-1 game on Sunday night, and has wins over Philadelphia, Dallas and Montreal in the month of February. Ted Nolan’s teams always play hard, and Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said he discussed with his team this morning what it’s going to take to avoid such a letdown tonight.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing or where you’re playing – you have the play the same way,” Richards said. “Teams are too good, players are too good in this league. If you aren’t ready to show up, it’s not going to be a positive thing. It doesn’t matter where Buffalo sits, it doesn’t matter where we sit.
“It’s going to be about working; it’s not about coming in and trying to skill your way through the game, it’s about coming in and working your way through the game.”
Anton Forsberg will get the start tonight against Buffalo, seeking his first NHL win in his fifth career start. He’s 0-4-0 to this point, but he’s faced some tough assignments including games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders – two of the league’s more explosive offensive teams – and both of those games were on the second night of back-to-backs.
Curtis McElhinney was not on the ice this morning for the formal skate (he took the ice near the end and worked on his own with a few players and goaltending coach Ian Clark), but he will serve as backup to Forsberg tonight. Sergei Bobrovsky was on for the full practice and is getting closer to a return.
“The reason why we had it like that is it gets more reps for Bob in the morning,” Richards said. “Because Curtis was backing up, it gives him one-on-one time with Ian Clark to get the work that he needs. He’s been very good for us, but there are still some things that Clarkie and Curtis wanted to work on today.”
WISNIEWSKI BACK IN
James Wisniewski was a healthy scratch Sunday against the Rangers, but Richards confirmed the veteran defenseman will return to the lineup tonight.
Wisniewski, 31, has 7-20-27 in 52 games this season to place him fourth on the team in total scoring. The Blue Jackets’ power play, ranked top-10 in the NHL for most of this season, has benefited from his presence on the blue line but there are other areas in which Richards wants Wisniewski's game to improve.
Richards did not elaborate, but said scratching a player to serve as a wake-up call to the group was not his intention.
“I don’t think you’re sitting a guy to send a message to the whole team,” Richards said. “It might have that effect, but it wasn’t done because of that.”
DUBINSKY EXPECTED TO PLAY
Brandon Dubinsky was absent from today’s morning skate along with Jack Skille (Skille is “banged up,” per Richards, and will not play) but the Blue Jackets anticipate him in the lineup tonight.
Dubinsky arrived at the rink this morning not feeling 100 percent, Richards said, but the team sent him home to get some rest and be ready for the game.
“This was more just illness-related,” Richards said. “He’ll be fine to play. In my conversation with Dubi and my conversation with (athletic trainer) Mike Vogt, he’s going to be fine.”