By Rick Gethin
It’s not quite the rash of injuries that was seen last season to the forward corps, but the Blue Jackets defense is being tested early this year. Jan Hejda was placed on Injured Reserve retroactive to October 13th and Mike Commodore is still out with a groin injury. This represents the top D-pairing for Columbus. With both of them out of the line-up, will the younger guys be up to the challenge?
Newly acquired Anton Stralman showed us why GM Scott Howson was keen on getting this right-handed blueliner. His one-timer on the power play for a goal Tuesday (vs. Calgary) was something this club has been lacking for a long time. He should see major minutes paired with Fedor Tyutin against the L.A. Kings Saturday.
Mathieu Roy, a stay at home defenseman, will see his time extended with the club due to the injuries to Commodore and Hejda. He was recalled from the Syracuse Crunch on an emergency basis before the home opener and is 0-2-2 and a +3 after five games with Columbus. A quiet off-season acqusition by Howson, who knew him from his time in Edmonton, Roy has played up to expectations. He should see time paired with Kris Russell on the 3rd defensive pairing. This gives the Blue Jackets two puck-moving defensemen for teams to contend with in Russell and Stralman.
Fedor Tyutin leads the team with an average of over 23 minutues of ice time per game. Tyutin is 0-3-3 and a -4 through five games. He had a career year last season, going 9-25-34 and a +1. He’ll surely see his time increase in the absense of both Commodore and Hejda. He’s a big part of the reason that the Blue Jackets are leading the league on the Penalty Kill, clicking at 94.7%.
Marc Methot and Rostislav Klesla will be the top defensive pairing for the foreseeable future. Methot is getting more comfortable playing more minutes and seems to be holding his own. He relishes the responsibilty he’s been given. Klesla needs to show the form that he played with during the playoffs last year. If he does that, this should be a formidable pairing for the Blue Jackets.
With Commodore skating without pain, look for him to re-join the line-up; possibly by the end of the upcoming 4 game road trip starting Tuesday in Calgary. Hejda will be out 4-6 weeks, so Methot will be on the top pairing for at least that much time. With no plans to call-up a defenseman from Syracuse, these six guys are it.
Are they up to the task?