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Blue Jackets focus on increasing puck control this season

Last season, blue line became the "engine of the team," and they will be the starting point of increasing puck control this year

by Alison Lukan AlisonL /

The next time the Blue Jackets take to the ice, the 2017-18 season will be officially underway. And as the team looks to build on its success last year, one key ingredient they want to add is increased puck control.

"I think as the game evolves it goes different ways," head coach John Tortorella said. "We are certainly cognizant about keeping the puck, and I think as you become a more confident team, and you feel good about yourself, you have the puck more."

Just as this team has been built from the net out, so too is approach to controlling the puck.

Last season, the coaches asked their defensemen to play aggressively, join the rush and be part of driving offense. The blue line became the "engine of the team," and they will be the starting point of increasing puck control this year.

"We hope to have the puck even more this season," president of hockey operations, John Davidson said. "(It's about) getting the puck in our zone, and then the first pass and controlling pucks out of the zone."

Once the puck is on the move, then the work of putting the puck in the net begins in earnest. That is something Cam Atkinson knows a lot about. Last season, he scored 35 goals and 27 assists in 82 games and was named to the 2017 All-Star team.

When you ask him about the Jackets wanting to have more puck control, a smile fills his face.

Video: CBJ@PHI: Atkinson dekes past Mason for breakaway goal

"I like the sounds of that," Atkinson said. "You want to make plays and have that confidence to let your offensive capabilities and assets take control. That's where you score goals.

"You see a lot of the best teams around the league, that's what they do. As soon as they get into the offensive zone, they are making plays and that's what's fun. That's why you love playing the game."

There are little things that go into puck control that Atkinson describes. Deciding to hold on to the puck to enter the offensive zone with control versus dumping it in is just one example he gives.

Assistant coach Brad Larsen gives another - smart line changes that avoid a dump in. A player holds the puck while four players change and then, once fresh bodies are on the ice, the final player can change. If you have to get rid of the puck, you put it where your team can get it back quickly.

It's not revolutionary, but it's about the details and getting them right so you don't have to give the puck away to the other team.

"We've always preached puck control," Larsen said. "There's not a situation where we go 'hey, we don't want the thing.' If you have the puck and the opponent doesn't have it, that's a good thing.

"There's things that we're working on in our offensive zone play. A lot of creativity, a little bit more movement."

Ultimately, for the Jackets, puck control is not about just holding on to the puck and skating around the ice with it, it's having the ability to get it into the dangerous areas and create a scoring chance. Those can come off a bad angle shot, a second or third opportunity in the crease, or a quick strike dynamic play.

"The game is going there," Tortorella said. "We're going to be able play a couple different ways this year, and puck control is a big part of that."

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