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Special teams will be crucial for Jackets

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

There's no denying that, for long stretches last season, the Blue Jackets did not produce when they needed it. But with a couple of tweaks and better execution, they turned it into a weapon as they made a push for the postseason.

And with three days of practice in the books at Blue Jackets Training Camp presented by OhioHeath, the Blue Jackets have touched on special teams in each session but really hammered home some key points on Saturday morning. They worked on their puck movement, rotations and getting second chances around the net - at the same time giving the penalty killers an intense workout. 

Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards (and to a larger degree, the hockey operations staff) feel their power play should be better this season due to a couple of factors: one being the added personnel in Marian Gaborik for a full season and the offseason signing of Nathan Horton, but also more familiarity with each other.

It's not a coincidence that as the Blue Jackets became used to the new faces and new schemes, their results improved. By getting out in front of the issue in training camp, they're hoping it doesn't take 35 games to hit stride this season.

"We've talked about the effect (the power play) has on a game," Blue Jackets forward Mark Letestu said. "With some of the stats we had, our record was substantially better when we won or tied the special teams battle. There should be a focus on that. Every time you get a chance to score or keep one out of the net - especially against teams like Pittsburgh that are so dynamic - winning those battles goes a long way."

Letestu, who has played all three forward positions for the Blue Jackets and also the point on the power play, is a former Pittsburgh Penguin and he knows first-hand how a dangerous power play can be the engine for a team's success. When teams like the Penguins get a power play opportunity, they're looking to do damage and that's the attitude the Blue Jackets want to have on the man advantage.

They will get their first chance to put the preparation into practice on Sunday afternoon against the aforementioned Penguins, who won't bring Sidney Crosby to town but are dressing several NHL regulars. The preseason games might be dress rehearsals, Letestu said, but the Blue Jackets have to take them seriously if they want to hit the ground running on opening night.

"I think this is going to help ease use into the first exhibition game, and by exhibition game eight, we should be firing on all cylinders," Letestu said. "Especially with the way (Richards) has the lineups written up, there's going to be a lot of us playing. The expectation is that we're ready for Game 1 and we're preparing accordingly."

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