With both teams in similar situations, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said it’s not hard to predict what type of game will be played tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers are in town with ideal timing, as Scott Hartnell will be honored with a pre-game ceremony celebrating his 1,000th career game, which was Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings. The NHL will present Hartnell with a silver stick to commemorate the milestone, and the Blue Jackets will have a presentation, as well – but Richards said once the ceremony is over, his team must be ready to play against a team that’s also desperate for points.
“We can’t get caught up in the ceremony and what’s going on,” Richards said. “It’s great to honor (Hartnell), but once that ends, we have a job to do and we have to be ready for the start of the game. There’s lots of former teammates (on both sides), the trades, ceremony, both teams desperate for points and they’re Philadelphia, too.
The Blue Jackets are about to embark on a stretch in which they play 11 games in 19 days, including a five-game trip through the Eastern Conference that includes four games against teams in the Metropolitan Division. But regardless of who they’re playing and what the situation is, the Blue Jackets don’t have a choice but to approach each game the same way and try to rack up points.
“Nothing changes from what I’ve said a week, two weeks, three weeks ago – it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, it’s two points and we have to go out and get two points,” Richards said. “We have to win as many games as we possibly can; it doesn’t matter if we’re playing the LA Kings, Philadelphia, the Islanders…we’re going to face some really good teams in tough environments because we’re going on the road. To me, every game is just as critical as any other game.”
RETURN OF THE WIZ
After missing the previous two games with a lower body injury, James Wisniewski will return to the lineup tonight and give the Blue Jackets a boost on the back end. It’s been a freakish stretch for Columbus on the blue line, going from having nine healthy defensemen when the sun came up last Friday to then having only six on Sunday morning.
They lost Ryan Murray and Wisniewski to injuries a week ago against St. Louis, and then, Dalton Prout suffered an upper body injury Saturday in Ottawa. Prout won’t play tonight but he’s not far off, and Wisniewski will certainly aid the Blue Jackets’ power play which has scored one goal in its last 19 chances, but has only had five man advantage opportunities in the last four games.
MCELHINNEY STARTS AGAIN
Curtis McElhinney gets the call in goal tonight, his 50th appearance as a Blue Jacket after signing as a free agent two seasons ago. McElhinney is 6-3-0 in his last nine starts and is coming off a 40-save performance in defeat Monday night against the Kings, but prior to that, he was very strong in back-to-back wins over the Blues and Senators.
“Sometimes you’re thrust into that role and that’s just the circumstances,” Richards said. “He’s done a good job for us, and he had a tough stretch (earlier in the season) just like everyone has tough stretches as players. I think he’s responded, he’s rebounded and he’s back at that level where he’s winning games or he’s giving us a chance to win games.
“It was no different against LA on Monday – I know we gave up four goals but a couple of them were just slam-dunks or tap-in goals into empty nets because we didn’t do the job around him.”
NOTE: Here are the Blue Jackets’ projected lines for tonight…Hartnell-Johansen-Foligno, Calvert-Dubinsky-Atkinson, Anisimov-Wennberg-Skille, Tropp-Letestu-Boll.