The second half of the Blue Jackets' six-game road trip begins tonight at Joe Louis Arena, and there are plenty of things to cover as we get set for puck drop.
First and foremost: the arrival of new GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who had his work visa approved earlier in the week and has made it to the Motor City to meet the team. He'll catch his first game as Blue Jackets GM tonight and will travel with the team on the remainder of the trip, which goes to St. Louis and Chicago over the weekend.
We'll have a full-length story on our conversation with Kekalainen coming this afternoon on BlueJackets.com, so hang tight and keep hitting refresh if you know what's good for you.
On the ice, the Blue Jackets held a crisp morning skate at The Joe and are getting back to full health as they prepare for tonight's Central Division clash. The two clubs have split their meetings so far this season (most recently a 4-2 Columbus win at Nationwide Arena on Feb. 2) and have two more dates scheduled after tonight. If the first two were any indication, we're in for another entertaining hockey game this evening.
Sergei Bobrovsky starts between the pipes for Todd Richards' club and it will mark his fifth in the last seven games. At a time when the schedule allows one goaltender to get into a rhythm, it appears as if (for the time being) Bobrovsky will be given that opportunity. Jimmy Howard is slated to start in goal for the Red Wings.
Cam Atkinson and Artem Anisimov are back in the Blue Jackets' lineup tonight and their returns cannot be understated. For a club that has struggled to generate consistent offense and has seen hot-and-cold results with its power play, getting two skilled players back and playing key minutes is a huge boost. Atkinson skated in practice yesterday alongside RJ Umberger and Derick Brassard, while Anisimov centered Matt Calvert and Nick Foligno.
Here are my "three keys" to success for the Blue Jackets tonight:
1. START FAST: This is a Detroit club that has had its own battles with inconsistency this season, and has not played particularly well on home ice. The Blue Jackets had a great start in Anaheim on Monday and put significant pressure on the Ducks' defense, and they'll be asked to do the same tonight against the Red Wings, who have been battered by injuries on the blue line. Get the forecheck started, make them skate, make them go back for pucks.
2. UNDER PRESSURE: It's one of the keys to the Blue Jackets' game, and when they commit to it, they're a tough team to deal with. Getting started on time and moving the feet early is paramount against the Red Wings, who thrive on possessing the puck and making opponents play at their speed. Limiting their time with the puck and pressuring them into turnovers is one way to get them off their game.
3. NO FREEBIES: Turnovers, careless puck management, penalties...just a few of the things that the Red Wings want you to do and they feed into the style they want to play. In the Blue Jackets' win over Detroit a few weeks back, they were smart with the puck and made the right decisions between the blue lines and exiting their zone. The "nothing for free" mentality is applicable every night, but is magnified when playing opportunistic-by-nature clubs like the Red Wings. Take care of your game, manage it, and you'll be alright.