It’s not often that a regular season game in the dog days of February has a lot of meaning. But for these Columbus Blue Jackets, these aren’t ordinary times. Whether they like it or not, probably not in this case, they are the center of the hockey world leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline now just 20 days away.
When we last left the Blue Jackets, they had a chance in front of a sold out home crowd to put on a show and end a losing streak. Instead they allowed the St. Louis Blues to dominate stretches of the game only to see their comeback fall short. That 4-2 loss sent the Blue Jackets to a fifth straight regulation loss.
Once the division leader, the Blue Jackets now find themselves down seven points to the New York Islanders entering play Tuesday. The division lead is the furthest thing from their minds now. They have games left with all three teams ahead of them in due time.
On Tuesday, the singular focus for these Columbus Blue Jackets is to win in Denver. One game at a time might be a cliche to most. But it’s the way head coach John Tortorella operates. Let’s set the scene from Denver and let you know what to watch for Tuesday night at Pepsi Center.
First Game Post Team Meeting
The Blue Jackets held a team meeting Sunday in Denver to discuss a variety of things. The question in the minds of most outside the locker room was have the distractions started to impact their play on the ice? This meeting like the one held in Winnipeg and in other places served as a chance to air things out and be honest with each other.
What was exactly said by everyone we will never know. But what we will see is how they come out Tuesday night. Will the Blue Jackets be ready and play with the level of desperation that’s required to win against an equally desperate opponent?
While talking things through is obviously a good thing internally, it loses its effect very quickly if they’re not prepared. Given the situation, I’d expect the Blue Jackets to come out ready. But we won’t know that until the puck drops.
What I am watching for? Who’s ready to go and who’s not? Who’s able to appropriately but the distraction behind them to help the Blue Jackets win? Personally, I’m not 100% convinced everyone is on the same page. But here’s their chance to prove otherwise.
#CBJ did hold another team meeting Sunday in Denver.
Foligno said it was mostly about the current slide, not the Bobrovsky and Panarin contract situations.
"It was a good chance for us to bury any excuse & just refocus on what really matters and how to get out of this."
— Brian Hedger (@BrianHedger) February 4, 2019
Injuries are starting to catch up a little to the Blue Jackets of late. They have some questions heading into the game. Let’s start with Brandon Dubinsky.
Dubinsky left Monday’s practice early and did not return. His status is questionable. It’s always tricky when you’re dealing with any kind of leg issue so there is a realistic chance he misses the game. If this happens, either Lukas Sedlak or Mark Letestu would play.
Ryan Murray also didn’t skate. The belief is that he was resting so he could be ready for the game. But it’s not 100% certain until we hear from Tortorella. If in the event Murray can’t go, Dean Kukan would most likely be Murray’s replacement.
Boone Jenner practiced Monday despite having a timeline of 1-3 weeks out due to an infection. The fact that he skated is good news but it’s the aftermath that’ll be watched. Is the infection under control enough that he can play?
The Blue Jackets tried out some new lines on Monday. Most notably, Nick Foligno and Artemi Panarin switched places. Foligno was playing on the left with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson. Panarin is now with Alexander Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand.
That is a very interesting second line to see how that develops if it stays together for any great length of time. Despite all the distractions, Panarin is continuing to produce. According to Tortorella, Bjorkstrand was their best player against St. Louis. And then there’s Wennberg.
It’s well documented his offensive struggles. The team has said they will do anything to try to get him going. They’re hoping putting these two talented wingers with him will ignite something, anything. What will I be watching? Will Wennberg at least be noticeable enough to have a positive impact on the game? The Blue Jackets need other lines to score. If they hope to make the playoffs and win a round, secondary scoring must start producing at a better rate.
#CBJ lines today:
— Brian Hedger (@BrianHedger) February 4, 2019
Who will it be? In normal circumstances, Sergei Bobrovsky is a must start. But given the circumstances and his season overall, it’s not a slam dunk. It’s a story, especially if they turn to Joonas Korpisalo after a fifth-straight loss.
We will find out Tuesday morning which way Tortorella goes with this one.
That Avalanche Top Line
The Colorado Avalanche are an interesting team. They like the Blue Jackets have a powerful top line then it drops off dramatically. If you manage to slow Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon down, your chances of winning go way up. If not, good luck.
I’ll be paying close attention to how Tortorella decides to defend that trio. While the Avalanche have last change and can control when to send them out, I’ll be curious to see if Dubois or Wennberg gets the assignment or if they even match up and just let lines roll. The winner of this matchup likely wins the game.
Keep It Simple
The Blue Jackets just need to win even if it’s boring or a classic road win. How can they do that? Keep it simple. Clear pucks out. Make smart passes. Don’t force anything that isn’t there. When things are desperate there can be a tendency to make a high-risk play to get the reward.
The Blue Jackets when right are good enough offensively that they don’t have to make high-risk plays. If they stay within themselves, they can walk out of Denver with two important points.
Tortorella will give game day updates at around 12:45 P.M. eastern. Then there will be an optional skate on the sheet of ice at Pepsi Center. Game time is 9:00 P.M. eastern.
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