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Special teams a focus on third day of camp

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The big storyline coming out of today's practice was the intrasquad scrimmage, but before and after, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards got some valuable special teams work in with his players.

As several players pointed out, special teams practice can never be repeated enough in the NHL where power plays and penalty kills are so often the difference between two points and coming away empty-handed. The best teams in hockey have the best special teams, and the Blue Jackets are trying to squeeze as much work in as they can before Saturday's season opener in Nashville.

With a lot of new faces in the room, the systems and detail work is crucial because some coaches speak in different tongues with regard to power play and penalty killing philosophies, Richards said.

"The power play, for the new guys coming in, is really going to be completely new," Richards said. "Nick Foligno was in Ottawa and their coach talks the same way we talk, so it’ll be a little easier adjustment. I think based on what systems we’re teaching, for some guys it’s a bit easier and for others it’s completely different and takes some time.

"This is going to be an ongoing thing. You’re always looking to improve your team and the areas you could be better at. The players are working hard at it and I think we’ve gotten better, but we still have a ways to go."

In the first few days of Blue Jackets Training Camp presented by OhioHealth, it has been hard not to notice the depth on defense and how it pertains to the power play. Where in years past the Blue Jackets have struggled to find the right guy to quarterback the power play, Richards now has five or six guys that could fill the role if need be.

There's Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin, Nikita Nikitin, Adrian Aucoin, Tim Erixon, David Savard, John Moore -- all players who are capable of moving the puck around the zone and making plays from the point. The Blue Jackets are hoping that depth brings a new dimension and threat to their power play unit.

"Power play and special teams win you games in this league," center Derick Brassard told "Our power play needs to be good, and we have to use the guys we have on the back end who can move the puck and shoot it to create chances.

"The power play is best sometimes when it’s simple; when those guys shoot the puck, we have to make sure we have guys at the net-front and ready to make plays."

Brassard, who has played the point on the power play at different levels throughout his hockey career, figures to remain at forward when playing on the man advantage. His distribution skills and ability to get the puck on the target made him a candidate both last year and in seasons prior, but that doesn't appear to be in the cards this season.

That's fine with Brassard, as he's developed a strong alliance with R.J. Umberger and Cam Atkinson, and that group should form one of the Blue Jackets' power play units up front.

"We’re really lucky to have a bunch of guys who can play quarterback and move the puck around on the power play," Brassard said. "The forwards are going to do their job and make plays on the half wall, find open guys and get shots on net. That's what is going to make our power play good.

"Special teams decide games and we have to make sure we’re better than we were last year in those situations."

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