Five days ago, the Blue Jackets iced a lineup full of veteran players when the Washington Capitals visited Nationwide Arena. Tonight at the Verizon Center, coach Bruce Boudreau plans to return the favor.
Last night’s playing group, in a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, included center Jeff Carter and captain Rick Nash, however those two will not be making the trip to the national’s capital. Derick Brassard, shifted to the wing last night on a line with R.J. Umberger and center Ryan Johansen, will play his second consecutive game for the second time in a week. He also suited up for back-to-back games in Winnipeg and at home against the Capitals.
Washington’s lineup tonight features Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Mike Knuble and several other projected regulars. Former Nashville Predator and Florida Panther, Tomas Vokoun will start in goal.
Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel will get a long look at goaltender Curtis Sanford tonight, especially important given the injury to Mark Dekanich. The other item high on Arniel’s list is the battle for spots on the blue line, and he will bring the majority of the young defensemen vying for one of those final jobs.
“We really want to get a good look at our back end, and throw some of the young kids back in there,” Arniel told BlueJackets.com. “We want to let them continue to play and battle like they’ve been doing, and they’ve done a great job.”
The younger lineup that the Blue Jackets are bringing compared to the Capitals group is not a concern for Arniel. He wants to watch his team (in particular the young players) continue to evolve and play in a variety of environments.
“This is a good test for us,” Arniel said. “We’re going against a Washington team that’s loaded for bear tonight.”
The rookies and young players attempting to break into the NHL with the Blue Jackets might be the busiest group in the building. Not only are they concerned with making a favorable impression on coaches and management, they also will be starting from the ground-up with Arniel’s system and where they should be on the ice in all situations.
From the opening of camp to today, Arniel has seen significant progress in that regard and is anxious to watch it on the ice against a Capitals team that will dress 15 regulars tonight.
“It’s a real good challenge for our young guys to play the system, to be on the same page,” Arniel said. “I thought last night was our most complete game that we’ve had in the exhibition.
“(Tonight) is almost like a game in the regular season when you’re banged up and have played a lot of games, and you have to go in and play smart.”
The problem – if you want to call it that – for the Blue Jackets right now is there are several skilled, young players competing for roster spots. And it’s a good problem to have.
Many of those players in contention for a spot on the NHL roster will be in uniform tonight. Arniel said the more he puts Cam Atkinson with talented players, the better he gets and he is expected to play top-six minutes and power play time tonight.
Same goes for the likes of David Savard and Maksim Mayorov, two players who are carrying out their plan to make every roster decision difficult for management.
“I’ve talked to a few of them (over the course of training camp),” Arniel said. “There some that, maybe earlier in the week you try to rev them up a little bit and tell them to get their game going a little bit harder.
“This is an evaluation that started on September 16 and it continues into next week. (The message is) stay with it, stay focused. Whether you play small minutes or large minutes, focus on what it is you have to do.”
Forwards: Maksim Mayorov, Derick Brassard, Vinny Prospal, Andrew Joudrey, Alexandre Giroux, Cody Bass, Dane Byers, Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, Jared Boll, Nick Drazenovic, Antoine Vermette.
Defensemen: Marc Methot, John Moore, Aaron Johnson, James Wisniewski, Nick Holden, David Savard, Cody Goloubef, Fedor Tyutin.
Goaltenders: Curtis Sanford, Paul Dainton.