A sense of relief is in the air after the Columbus Blue Jackets won their first game on Monday. Two losses in a row made for a tough start, and a third would’ve caused some early nerves.
Three games aren’t enough to know what the Blue Jackets will be like for the course of a season. Yet, it does allow a chance for the team to make some early assessments.
For the Blue Jackets, the first two games were pretty hard to watch. There were flashes of good play but ultimately they’ll need to look back on those games so they know what not to do.
If the Blue Jackets want to build off of the momentum from their overtime win on Monday, there are a few things they should focus on. Even though it’s only been three games, there are players in the system who want more ice time.
This is important because even though the Blue Jackets don’t have the high-end talent that other teams do, they have prospects that are close to being ready. That said, each current Blue Jacket has some time to make improvements. Here’s what the team should focus on to play their best this weekend:
Clean up Avoidable Penalties
The Blue Jackets’ weekend opponents are hot to start the season. Those teams are the Anaheim Ducks and Carolina Hurricanes.
In the season opener, penalties changed the game for the worse. On Monday, a late penalty gave the Buffalo Sabres a point they likely wouldn’t have had otherwise. Game changing penalties need to be a focus going into the weekend.
Boone Jenner’s late-game penalty on Monday is inexcusable for a veteran, alternate captain like himself. If the Blue Jackets want to come away with points this weekend, they’ll need to eliminate bad penalties.
The Hurricanes are cruising along so far, sitting with one of the most point totals in the young season. The last thing the Blue Jackets need to do is give them one too many power plays. The Ducks, on the other hand, have less fire power but do have John Gibson in goal.
Eliminating bad penalties will help the Blue Jackets avoid the criticism they’ve been hearing throughout the summer and into the early part of this season. They can’t always get the result they want, but if they are more cognizant about late-game penalties they’ll be able to start trending upwards.
It’ll be important for the Blue Jackets to focus on timely play. Another late-game penalty this early in the season won’t be the ideal way to move forward.
Utilize Emil Bemström’s shot
Blue Jackets rookie Emil Bemström has two shots on goal through his first three NHL games. Right now is a great time to get the kid more opportunities to shoot.
Of course, being able to put himself in the right position to fire off shots is part of the story, but Bemström has done pretty well so far. The first two games he skated on the fourth line, and the third game he was on the third line.
It’s no surprise that he was able to stand out more being on the third line on Monday. Once Josh Anderson returns from injury, Bemström will likely go back to the fourth line. However, Anderson will be out on Friday.
It won’t do any good playing him nine minutes a night when he could be back in Sweden tearing it up like last season. That’s why this weekend will be a great way to boost Bemström’s confidence. Goalscorers are always streaky, and it’d be nice to see him pot a few early.
When Anderson comes back, following a penalty kill or power play might be a good time to throw Bemström out with some of the more skilled Blue Jackets players. He needs an opportunity to showcase his skills, because they can be a huge asset if utilized properly.
It might be hard to convince head coach John Tortorella to give him ice time at certain times because of inexperience. However, I think it’s crucial for the head coach to know that no matter how bad the team might be playing, Bemström could change the game with one rip of the puck.
Scoring from the Second Line
The Blue Jackets second line looked solid on Monday. The line consisted of Alexandre Texier, Alexander Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Texier alone gives this line an element they haven’t had in years past. I think there’s a chance he could be considered the Blue Jackets best winger within the next season or so.
Wennberg and Bjorkstrand are looking good too. For Wennberg, pretty much anything is better than last year. It’s never been about the pure skill with him because there’s no doubt he has it.
He needs to be more confident and decisive, and so far I think the Blue Jackets have gotten that out of him. It’ll be huge for the team if he can play that way throughout the season. Same goes for Bjorkstrand. He had a big goal on Monday, which was his first of the season. Wennberg and Bjorkstrand need to step up for the Blue Jackets to have success.
I think Texier would look great no matter what line he’s on, and putting him on the second is a great move. He needs top-six minutes and has fit nicely on the line so far.
Scoring an overtime winner and adding his first NHL assist was a big way to get on the score sheet early on. I’ll be looking for Texier to get better as the year progresses. The 20-year-old is impressive, and is even saying all of the right things already.
While there are a number of things that each team can work on, these are three I’ll be looking for from the Blue Jackets. It won’t be time to cancel the season if they lose both games this weekend, but a 1-4-0 start wouldn’t be fun for anyone involved.