Columbus, OH – It was nice while it lasted, but the NHL All-Star break officially ended for the Columbus Blue Jackets at 2:01 p.m. this afternoon. The only exceptions from the full roster being on the ice were Captain Rick Nash and defenseman Rusty Klesla. After returning from the All-Star festivities in Raleigh, NC, Nash earned a day off. Klesla is still nursing a left knee injury sustained before the break.
The Boys in Union Blue have 12 games with which to decide their fate. 12 games in the month of February where they have to win at a sustained pace. The trade deadline comes the day after the 12th game is played. Will they be buyers or sellers on February 28th? Head coach Scott Arniel isn’t looking that far ahead. His focus, and that of the club, is on the game Tuesday versus the Chicago Blackhawks.
Three of their next four games come against the last three Stanley Cup Champions; Chicago, Pittsburgh and Detroit. Talk about a tough stretch. But, are they worried? More importantly, should they be?
Defenseman Marc Methot knows just how important every game is. “There’s no question that it’s one game at a time. We’re aware of how crucial this time of the year is. This is where you can make, or literally break, your season. We’re at home for thenext little bit and we have to use that to our advantage.”
“We seem to do well against the big opponents, especially early on in the season,” he goes on. “It’s all of those games against the lower-tier teams close to use, we have to get those wins. I think, once we can focus on that and get some upsets as well, we can have a pretty good outcome.”
Defenseman Kris Russell has seemed to gain more confidence with his play since the call-up of defenseman Grant Clitsome. “We’ve played together 5-on-5 and I think we’ve done pretty well together. We could be one of the smallest ‘D’ pairs in the league, if not the smallest.” (Good things come in small packages, I guess.) “We like to have quick transitions and get the puck up-ice. He’s got a heavy shot (Clitsome) and a quick release, as well,” said Russell. “When he gets the pucks on net, they’re hard and heavy.”
He acknowledged that the Blue Jackets need to limit their mistakes in order to minimize the Blackhawks capitalizing on them. “They feed off of mistakes. If you are lackadaisical with the puck in the neutral zone and turn it over, that’s when they spring those guys for the 2-on-1’s and the 3-on-1’s. I think if we play a hard and heavy game, and our forwards are committed to getting it deep… If we’ve got room to skate, we’ve got guys who can create something out of nothing. Our skill guys, we need them to skate with the puck (versus dumping and chase hockey).
The road to the playoffs starts now and they know that they control their own destiny. They know the frustration of the fans and they want to win. Not only for the fans, but also, for themselves. It’s a proud bunch of guys in that dressing room.
~ Forward Ethan Moreau skated with the team today in a red “no contact” jersey. He’s been itching to get back on the ice since breaking a rib earlier this season. “It still hurts,” he said, “but the pain is bearable. The rib was broken and has to fuse back together. It’s frustrating because I can’t tape it or put a cast on it.” There still is no timetable for his return.
~ The Columbus Blue Jackets mascot, Stinger, made an appearance at the NHL All-Star festivities this past weekend. By all accounts, he kicked some (you know what) and took some names. Don’t let the smile fool you. He’s a bad mofo.