NHL

Rookie coach not afraid to sit his stars

Share This Story

   
 

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)

In their 10 seasons of mostly forgettable hockey, the Columbus Blue Jackets have had their share of swoons.

Heck, some years were pretty much one, long free fall.

A succession of coaches has reformulated lines, tinkered with the defensive pairs and called up fresh personnel.

But when the Blue Jackets hit a rough spot this year, rookie coach Scott Arniel simply started benching players. And so far, it's a tactic which has worked. He's certainly gotten everyone's attention, if nothing else.

''He made statements by sitting some guys out,'' Rick Nash, the team's captain and best player, said on Monday. ''Sometimes, it seems, a new coach might come in and get intimidated. But he doesn't whatsoever. He makes the calls and he doesn't make any empty promises. Everything he says, he does.''

Arniel's approach - that players commit ever atom of energy or else - seems to be working, too.

Heading into the week, the Blue Jackets are 25-22-5 for 55 points, just five points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the deep and talented Western Conference. They'd be in even better position if not for an ugly, monthlong 3-9-3 nosedive that dropped them from near the top of the Central Division (after a sparkling 14-6-0 start) all the way to the bottom. They've since fought their way out of the slump by going 5-2-2 in their last nine heading into a critical showdown Tuesday vs. Pittsburgh.

''Making up these five points is a tough thing to do,'' said Arniel, who was coach of the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League the previous four seasons. ''It's not just winning three games in a row; it's putting together five, six, seven, eight games in a row to get to that (playoff) spot. I've come here to win and I want us to have success. So, I'm not satisfied at all.''

Just last week, Arniel made veteran first-line winger Kristian Huselius a healthy scratch in Friday night's 3-0 victory in Detroit. Huselius, a proven point producer who had scored just one goal in his last 13 games, was humiliated by the demotion.

The next night, though, in a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over Edmonton, Huselius was not only back in the lineup, but scored two goals, including the game-winner.

''Everybody wants to play,'' he said simply, summing up the lesson learned.

All the Blue Jackets have taken notice, from rookies just trying to stick with the club to proven players like forward R.J. Umberger.

''It's simple: Play hard and you get to go out there,'' Umberger said. ''He's willing to do anything to spark the team, do anything to motivate somebody. There's been times when he gets the whole team together outside the rink, because he thinks it'll be good for the team. There's little things that he's done all year.''

General manager Scott Howson brought Arniel aboard last June, and has watched from afar.

''Scott is doing a good job in being both demanding and being fair to the players,'' Howson said. ''We're looking forward to the last 30 games of the regular season.''

Arniel knows what inspires an NHL player since he was one of them for parts of 11 seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets and Boston Bruins. Eight times, he helped teams make the playoffs.

But he's discovered that it's even harder to coach a team that's only made the postseason once since coming into the NHL in 2000-2001.

''There's great pressure to win and that's eye opening right from the beginning,'' he said. ''You're worrying about games in early October where, when I was a player, it was maybe November or December before we started to think about (the playoffs). You have to be good right out of the gate, because it's so hard to make up points.''

Arniel, 48, favors a system in which the defensemen are more tuned to the offense. He wants them to pinch up into the play and to take chances. With the help of assistants Brad Berry, Bob Boughner and Dan Hinote - also former NHL players - the Blue Jackets are less likely than in past years of throwing away a game with a late mistake. They're 12-1-0 when leading after two periods, and a respectable 10-3-1 when tied heading into the third.

''He wants us to play fast hockey,'' forward Jake Voracek said. ''Don't wait for the opponent to make a mistake, try to jump on their defense and create some pressure. Make them give up the puck.''

With franchise goalie Steve Mason 8-4-1 in his last 13 starts and players going all out all the time, there's hope where there wasn't before.

''We've done some good things. But it's an 82-game season,'' Arniel said. ''At the end of the day, all anyone cares about is making the playoffs. I'd love to be sitting in that top eight right now.''

Tagged: Blue Jackets, Kristian Huselius

Related Stories

Member Comments

Please note by clicking on "Post comment" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Use and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be Polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator.

powered by



Play Hockey Simulation Game on WhatIfSports

More Than Sports on MSN

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    Reebok Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins Premier Hockey Jersey - Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Pittsburgh_Penguins/browse/featuredproduct/175178/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_175000/FF_175178_xl.jpg&w=100 159.95 Reebok Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins Premier Hockey Jersey - Black
    Reebok Dallas Stars White Premier Hockey Jersey http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Dallas_Stars/browse/featuredproduct/243363/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_243000/FF_243363_xl.jpg&w=100 124.95 Reebok Dallas Stars White Premier Hockey Jersey
    Reebok Tampa Bay Lightning Primary Logo T-Shirt - Royal Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Tampa_Bay_Lightning/browse/featuredproduct/301017/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_301000/ff_301017_xl.jpg&w=100 19.95 Reebok Tampa Bay Lightning Primary Logo T-Shirt - Royal Blue
    Majestic Anaheim Ducks Black Official Logo Full Zip Hoodie Sweatshirt http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Anaheim_Ducks/browse/featuredproduct/398322/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_398000/FF_398322_xl.jpg&w=100 43.99 Majestic Anaheim Ducks Black Official Logo Full Zip Hoodie Sweatshirt
    Detroit Red Wings Youth Black Southpaw Backpack http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Detroit_Red_Wings/browse/featuredproduct/403205/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_403000/FF_403205_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Detroit Red Wings Youth Black Southpaw Backpack
    Reebok Chicago Blackhawks #88 Patrick Kane Red Premier Hockey Jersey http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Chicago_Blackhawks/browse/featuredproduct/408123/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_408000/FF_408123_xl.jpg&w=100 159.95 Reebok Chicago Blackhawks #88 Patrick Kane Red Premier Hockey Jersey
    Majestic New Jersey Devils Red Felt Tek Patch Pullover Hoodie Sweatshirt http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_New_Jersey_Devils/browse/featuredproduct/456774/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_456000/ff_456774_xl.jpg&w=100 47.99 Majestic New Jersey Devils Red Felt Tek Patch Pullover Hoodie Sweatshirt
    Vancouver Canucks 2011 NHL Western Conference Champions Hockey Stick http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Vancouver_Canucks/browse/featuredproduct/665779/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_665000/ff_665779_xl.jpg&w=100 11.95 Vancouver Canucks 2011 NHL Western Conference Champions Hockey Stick
    Majestic New York Islanders Royal Blue Felt Tek Patch Pullover Hoodie Sweatshirt http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_New_York_Islanders/browse/featuredproduct/752594/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_752000/ff_752594_xl.jpg&w=100 47.99 Majestic New York Islanders Royal Blue Felt Tek Patch Pullover Hoodie Sweatshirt