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Ready or not, here comes the NHL season

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Todd Richards took a deep breath, smiled and exhaled before answering whether he thinks his team is ready for tomorrow night's opener in Nashville.

Without a doubt, it's a loaded question that several coaches are asking themselves on the eve of one of the most anticipated NHL seasons in recent memory. In less than 100 days, the playoff seedings will be determined and 16 teams are going to zero in on the ultimate goal: a shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

The Blue Jackets weren't the only team with less than a week to get geared up for the 48-game sprint to the finish line, but Richards feels he and his staff covered most of the ground they laid out before camp began.

And with one more practice (not including tomorrow's morning skate) to fine-tune the details, Richards liked what he saw on the ice this morning at Nationwide Arena.

"I liked our practice today," Richards said. "I would still like to have more time to prepare, but we don’t have any time. There’s going to be areas that we have to make adjustments to and coach, but I liked our enthusiasm and energy there.

"I bet you if you asked all the coaches (in the NHL), they’d all like to have another week or so. It’s going to be a growing period for other teams trying to get players in tune with each other and in tune with what we want to do."

There is one item on the to-do list that Richards wants to merit full attention: improving on the defensive end of the ice. Columbus gave up far too many goals last season for Richards' liking, and once appointed to full-time head coach in May, he started planning out how the Blue Jackets were going to cut down on goals against and become a better defensive team.

It's a necessity, especially in the Central Division where defense and goaltending are paramount. Pekka Rinne, whom the Blue Jackets will face tomorrow night, is one of the pillars in Nashville and the St. Louis Blues used a tandem of hot goaltenders to win the division crown a year ago.

"The big that I’ve been saying from day one is our commitment to checking," Richards said. "We’ve got to be a better checking team and a harder checking team. There will be mistakes come Saturday, but our effort can’t be a question on any given night. When people come watch us play, whether it’s here or another building, they’re walking out saying ‘that team works hard.’

"It’s gotta happen, and it’s gotta happen 48 times this year. That gives us a chance to win."

And the backbone of any strong defensive effort -- the goaltender -- has been a topic of conversation in Blue Jackets camp with the addition of Sergei Bobrovksy this offseason. He and Steve Mason are going to battle it out for the No. 1 job between the pipes, but at the moment, Richards hasn't decided which goaltender gets the start in Nashville.

"I have not made a decision," Richards said. "We’ll sit down and talk about it as a staff, maybe talk about it on the plane. We want the goalie to know the night before so they can start preparing. But as of this point, we haven’t made a decision."

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