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Richards' message: keep it simple, get engaged

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets' first-period struggles are akin to someone preparing to go skydiving: there’s no such thing as partially skydiving, and the only way to do it successfully is embrace the experience and jump in with both feet.

On too many occasions in the first eight games, the Blue Jackets have seemed uneasy or timid in the first period – and it has cost them dearly. They have given up the first goal in six of those games and have had to overcome two-goal deficits or greater on five occasions, which puts tremendous pressure on the defense and goaltending to be on-point and not allow games to get out of hand.

But once the Blue Jackets have jumped out of that airplane, so to speak, they’ve played well and committed to their style of hockey. The issue now, coach Todd Richards said, is getting the commitment and conviction to start games “on time” and on their toes.

“I think everybody has their own way of getting into it,” Richards said. “When I played, I always wanted to get a hit on the first shift. I felt it got me into the game and gave me a focus. I don’t know what’s going on inside our players’ heads as far as what their goals or objectives are to get themselves into the game.

“As coaches, we try to prepare them and we can certainly try to motivate them, but that comes down to the players preparing themselves. They’re professionals and that’s what they have to do.”

The Blue Jackets have given up 10 goals in the first period this year, which is the most in the NHL.

The Blues scored three goals in the first 13-plus minutes of last night’s game and chased Sergei Bobrovsky after only 11 shots on goal, marking the first goaltending change made by the Blue Jackets this season.

Richards said he made the change because the team needed a spark and not necessarily because Bobrovsky was at fault, but admitted “Bob” has to be better as well. And it wasn’t as if the Blues were lighting it up with highlight-reel goals; the Blue Jackets didn’t manage the puck well and their mistakes ended up in their net.

“They have good players, no doubt about it, but they weren’t good enough to make us look they way we did in the first period – I can tell you that much,” Brandon Dubinsky said. “We have to have some conviction with the puck and without it. It wasn’t good enough in the first period, and that seems to be the theme. We’ve got to come here tomorrow ready to work and find that passion.

“The game you see in the last 30 minutes of these hockey games – the way we’re capable of playing – it’s gotta be a start-to-finish effort and that’s the only way we’re going to win hockey games.”

Columbus dug in after the first period and countered with a much better middle period, denting the St. Louis lead on a Derick Brassard power play goal. But even prior to that, the element of confrontation played a factor in getting the Blue Jackets’ bench jacked up; four different players were involved in fights and one was Nick Foligno, whose frustration was released in a spirited bout with Barret Jackman.

Fights, goals, big hits, whatever it may be…Richards wants one thing from his players and that’s to get emotionally involved earlier in games.

“(The fisticuffs) got some emotion in the players, and we have to get emotionally attached to games,” Richards said. “I think that’s some of what happened in Minnesota is the emotional attachment wasn’t there on the ice and then it’s got to be created. And sometimes, it’s got to be created by me. But once we got engaged and stood up to them…I don’t want to say it helped the game but it certainly leveled the playing field.”

A big part of getting engaged is getting back to what makes up the Blue Jackets identity -- puck pressure and their forecheck. They see success when they stick to it, and the opposite when they don’t.

“We didn’t come out and play hard enough,” Dubinsky said. “That’s been the theme the whole year so far, and we have to come out with some fire. We have to come out with some passion and we didn’t do it again tonight.

“Forecheck…it’s simple. We had some chances once we started doing that, getting some shots and getting some traffic. That’s the only way we’re going to score goals here.”

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