Ready or not, here comes the NHL regular season.
In seven days, the Blue Jackets will be in Buffalo for the first installment of an 82-game journey that they hope turns into one much longer than that.
If you ask the coaches, they’d probably like some additional time to prepare and practice, because as Todd Richards says, “there will always be mistakes in your game.”
But on the other hand, the players are more than ready to get this thing going.
The Blue Jackets played their seventh preseason game on Wednesday night and won their sixth, a 6-3 final over the Carolina Hurricanes that leaves just Saturday’s date with Nashville Predators between them and the real deal.
Before too long, they’ll be on the plane to western New York — and everything they’re doing over the next week is to gear up for Oct. 9.
“Training camp kind of drags on, you know?” Matt Calvert told BlueJackets.com. “There are eight preseason games and (the coaches) have done a great job managing us. We’re excited. We can’t wait to get this thing started…we’re ready to get to work.”
Some are quick to dismiss the preseason success, but Calvert has been in Columbus long enough to go through some of the not-so-successful exhibitions. As Richards pointed out after Wednesday’s win over Carolina, it may only be the preseason, but winning games is always better than losing games.
“I think it’s big for us,” Calvert said. “We’ve had a different lineup every night and there are a lot of young guys stepping up. It’s great to see and it’s been fun to watch. There are some spots up for grabs and we’ve seen guys step up their game to the next level –we have one game left and they’re making it tough on the coaches and the management.”
Columbus has played seven exhibition games against four opponents, scoring 25 goals in those games with a 6-1-0 record, and there have been several terrific individual performances contained within the last two weeks.
Without Ryan Johansen in the fold and contract talks reportedly ongoing, Richards has to look inward and he’s comfortable doing so.
The Blue Jackets’ depth has been on display during this camp and not only is it competitive depth but it’s highly-skilled depth; all three of the team’s 2013 first-round picks (Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel and Marko Dano) remain on the roster and in contention for a roster spot.
Wennberg centered a line with Calvert and Cam Atkinson on Wednesday night, and they were a key cog in the rapidly-spinning wheel that was the Jackets' offense. Calvert scored twice, nearly had a trick and Wennberg picked up assists on both of them in one his strongest outings of the preseason.
“For the young guys, it’s time for us to step up,” Wennberg said. “We’re all friends, but we’re pushing each other and competing against each other. There’s a great atmosphere in here; the older guys help the younger guys and we’re teammates. It’s great.”
With one exhibition game remaining – and it will be the Blue Jackets’ eighth game in 14 days counting the split-squad game last weekend – Calvert said everyone wants to be in game shape and ready hit the ground running next week, but there lies a challenge ahead once the preseason is complete.
They’ll have spent the past two weeks building toward the regular season, but after Saturday, they won’t play another game until Thursday and it happens to be the season opener.
“Those things happen during the season, too,” Calvert said. “Sometimes you’ll play a few games and then have a few days off, so you have to learn how to manage those gaps and keep yourself sharp. We’ve been rolling along through this preseason and our record speaks for itself, but the biggest thing for us is to work on our mistakes.
“There are some areas of our game that need work and we’ll continue to focus on that before the season starts.”