TORONTO - The wait is officially over. The Black & Gold hit the ice tonight in Toronto, Ontario to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets after a four-month hiatus. Although it is just an exhibition matchup, coach Bruce Cassidy explained during his afternoon press conference that he does not plan on changing his typical game-plan.
"I'm sure Columbus will be playing hard. They've got to go against Toronto in a short period of time here, so they don't want to waste this game either."
Cassidy and the B's look to continue where they left off in the regular season: at the top of the league heading into the playoffs. To do so, he will have to rely heavily on some of the younger players on the squad.
With a healthy and rejuvenated roster, Cassidy must make some tough decisions on line combinations with the playoff on the horizon.
When asked about winger Karson Kuhlman's progress during camp, Cassidy explained, "He checks well, he gets on pucks well. He's a good forechecker, he manages pucks...We certainly feel comfortable and he's a good reliable player for us...But he's going to have some competition when we get completely healthy. Right now we're taking a look at Jack on right wing…we've moved Bjork around on the right side. "We'll see how Jack does with Krejci and DeBrusk, so far he's looked good there."
For these young wingers, it seems their performance during these upcoming round-robin games may be crucial.
"It's not like we have six or eight exhibition games to sort of let it build up," Cassidy said. "That's a bit of the challenge for the guys that aren't in the lineup or have a secure spot."
As these young players find their rythm, it provides coach Cassidy with an even bigger dilemma moving forward.
"When Ritchie and Kase are [back] in the lineup, where do they best fit? And I think we're going to have to learn that quickly and on the fly. So, there will be some juggling in that regard right into the first round of the playoffs and beyond."
Filling The Gap
Cassidy said he plans on playing most of his regulars tonight, although forward Nick Ritchie will not be included. "He will not be in the line up, but he skated today," Cassidy said. "We're going to play seven [defenseman] and thirteen forwards."
"I won't go through all the forwards, but Jack [Studnicka] is the only guy who hasn't been here a lot, who will play with Krejci."
Cassidy also mentioned that Bjork and Kuhlman will also get playing time. "Pasta's going to play. On the back end, Johnny Moore will be our seventh. Tuukka is going to start, we'll see how it goes for him. Certainly won't play the whole game, we'll see how much action he gets. Probably be some sort of split. Halak will play the second part of it."
Power Play Adjustments
With Pasta back in the lineup, the first power play squad, built of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak will finally reunite, sending David Krejci back to the second unit with Charlie Coyle, Matt Grzelyck, Charlie McAvoy, and either Jack Studnicka or Anders Bjork.
Even with these small adjustments, the second power play unit has proven to operate at a high level, with Charlie Coyle leading the way.
Cassidy spoke highly of Cassidy during Thursday's press conference when he stated, "Charlie has been one of our most consistent forwards from day one of camp here. He's come back in excellent shape, he's a attacking more…I would like to see throughout the playoffs."
Video: Cassidy addresses media before Thursday exhibition
Thursday Night's Projected Lineup
Marchand - Bergeron - Pastrnak
DeBrusk - Krejci - Studnicka
Kuraly - Coyle - Bjork
Nordstrom - Lindholm - Wagner/Kuhlman
Chara - McAvoy
Krug - Carlo
Grzelcyk - Lauzon