We’re Talkin’ About Practice!
The Blue Jackets hit the ice… at the Dispatch Ice Haus for their first mandatory practices in what seemed like an eternity earlier this week. The team was coming off a disheartening loss to the Colorado Avalanche Saturday and had lost eight of their previous nine games. In those games the defense was giving up an average of 3.67 goals a game. Steve Mason was letting in soft goals and agitator Derek Dorsett was out of the lineup recovering from a concussion. The Jackets plummeted in the Western Conference standings.
Monday’s practice marked the return of Dorsett and another not-so-familiar face, Fredrick Modin, who has missed the entire season thus far recovering from a knee injury. The two 50-minute practice sessions were spent almost exclusively in the defensive zone with focus on in-zone coverage and the penalty kill. No surprises there. The Jackets are leading the Western Conference with 105 goals allowed on the season.
Tuesday’s practice was a bit more open and included a lot of 5-on-5 play. There were opportunities a plenty to work on the breakout, which had been abysmal during the nine-game stretch. No complaints from the players though. Ken Hitchcock wants them to play his style, the style this team is designed to play. It’s built on from the net out and requires tight play in the back two zones. Hitch also did a little shuffling with the lines in anticipation of another tough stretch for the CBJ with nine games over 14 days. RJ Umberger was moved back to center on the second line. Brassard fell to the third line between Raffi Torres and Dorsett. Sammy Pahlsson’s line was bumped down to fourth but in name only. Hitch was prepared to roll four lines, not something the Jackets have done often this season.
The Jackets took on the Florida Panthers last night in Nationwide Arena in front of a relatively sparse crowd. Again, no surprises there, considering the play this team has put up this season along with a low-key opponent and a weeknight game. A familiar foe was in net for the Panthers in Thomas Vokoun, a player who seems to always put on his best performances against the Union Blue. What did the Jackets do? How about put on their most solid overall performance at home this season with a 3-0 shutout win. Mason recorded his first goose egg of the season. Jason Chimera extended his goal-scoring streak to three games. Derek Brassard registered his first goal since November 5th at Atlanta, snapping a 14-game drought. The most telling stat of them all though may have time on ice. Fedor Tyutin led the Jackets with 22:55. Raffi Torres was the only Jacket not to break the 10-minute mark with 9:30. Hitch rolled four line and the Jackets played the game like they’re supposed to.
The Jackets were able to hold onto a one-goal lead, provided by Chimera, going into the third period. Chimera’s goal was a thing of beauty, at least in the eyes of Hitchcock. He cut across the ice, threw the puck at Vokoun and drove hard to the net to burry his own rebound to give the Jackets the late lead in the first.The second period was scoreless and was marked by the Jackets ability to stay out of the box and keep play at 5-on-5, an area they’ve been relatively successful throughout the season.
The Jackets took their first penalty midway part when Kristian Huselius was called for a questionable delay of game. With Juice in the box already, Andrew Murray playing in only his second game since returning from injury, took a hooking penalty to put the Jackets down 5-on-3. If there was ever a time for the Jackets to blow the lead, it was now but, Steve Mason stood tall and the PK sent the puck out of the zone every opportunity they had. It was a sound, fundamental PK and the entire atmosphere shifted in their favor after the kill. Derek Brassard used that momentum and, with Dorsett driving hard to the net and drawing the defender, roofed the puck near-side on Vokoun to make it 2-0. A few minutes later, with the net empty and a face-off at center ice, Pahlsson won the battle off the draw and pushed the puck, willed it really, down the ice, off the post and in the net to solidify the lead at 3-0. It was a defensively sound, fundamental game that the Jackets desperately needed.
Unfortunately for the Boys in Blue, there is little time to gloat on what was really a massive win for this team. The Jackets head down to Nashville to face-off against Darth Vader and the Evil Empire, Barry Trotz and co. It is no stretch to call this game the biggest of the young season. The CBJ are winless in their last 12 games in Nashville. To make matter worse, the Preds are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now and have won 15 of their last 20. They have certainly benefited from the Jackets slide and have rocketed up the standings and currently sit at second in the Central Division. Mathieu Garon will get the start in net for the Jackets, a questionable move given Mason’s performance last night, but one that was predetermined earlier this week. If the Jackets can play the same hard-working, defensively-sound game that they played last night, the same sort of play the netted the franchise it’s first playoff appearance last season, they might be able to finally kick this funk and use the momentum to turn their season around. A win tonight could kill two birds with one stone.
- Bart Logan