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Jackets doing best to learn Arniel's systems

by Risto Pakarinen /
STOCKHOLM -- On the eve of a new season, most teams are bursting with optimism and faith in their new players, new coaches and new systems. The Columbus Blue Jackets are no exception. The players, as well as new coach Scott Arniel, keep referring to the benefits of their new system -- a system they believe will make them a playoff team again.

"Our style of play is up-tempo, up on our toes, tag team," said Arniel. "Working on pressure. My big phrase is 'time and space.' Take time and space away from good players, and don't let them do what they want. We've done a good job -- we've been very aggressive and that's a good sign."

They'll get to use those new systems when they open the season Friday against the San Jose Sharks (3 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN) as part of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series here at the Ericsson Globe Arena.

The coaching staff has had a few weeks to install the new system, and while it's not perfect, things are looking better. Good, even.

"We're ready. We've been waiting for a long time for the regular-season opener," said Antoine Vermette. "It's been a long process, but we've got to spend a lot of time together this week, and now it's time to get serious.

Vermette is hoping to build on last season's success, when he recorded career-high totals of 27 goals and 65 points while playing all 82 games. And the new, more aggressive style, with more puck possession, should be good for him.

"I'm just trying to enjoy myself, and play hard and with confidence," he said. "I'm pretty pleased with the preseason and I just hope I can carry it on to the season, but I just try to get better with every aspect of the game.

"The new system is a little more aggressive. When we don't have the puck, we try to be a little more aggressive in retrieving it. We're going to skate more this season, and hopefully we can create some turnovers and get puck possession."

Three weeks is not a long time to adapt to a new system, especially when players need to make it instinct rather than thinking and reacting. There is no time to think on the ice.

"There will be moments when the tendency of the players is to step back to what he's comfortable with and some of the things they've done in the past. It's a work in progress," said Arniel.

But on the other hand, hockey is hockey. Arniel is not revolutionizing the game.

"Mentally try to get the system in, but sometimes you automatically go back to the old way, so it's a matter of letting the system sink in. Having said that, I've played this system before, so it's not like we've never seen it before," Vermette said. "You still have to remember that there's a lot of reacting and reading the plays. Every play is different and you have to adjust to them."

The changes mostly have been made in the offense.

"Last season we usually sent one guy to forecheck; this season we can send two guys," said Vermette.

But there are adjustments that the defensemen have to make, too. Growing up in Sweden, Anton Stralman got use to playing a man-on-man defense on a big ice surface. In the new system, Arniel will have his defensemen defending a zone.

"In the past, we've followed our guys in the zone, but (the coach) wants me to be in front of the net until the puck comes to my side. We're not really used to switching like that, so it's important that we communicate well on the ice," he said. "But the big difference is not the defense, it's the offense. With a defenseman in front of the net, he can also jump on the rush or just be another alternative for the breakout because there usually isn't a lot of pressure in the middle of the ice. So he can help the forwards."

The key to any new system is everyone being on the same page. And that they all believe in it.

"I hope we keep improving with each game. We have these two here, and then a week before we play against the Blackhawks at home and I'm sure we have a lot of work in front of us when we get home. I hope it's a smooth transition, but I like how the guys are buying into what the coaches throw at them," said Arniel.

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