COLUMBUS, Ohio — One day after playing one of their most unengaged games of the season, the Blue Jackets sweated under the watchful eye of head coach Todd Richards and his staff. Known for having a relatively calm demeanor, he said the decision to have this intense of a practice was an easy one. And while it wasn’t a traditional "bag skate," it was intense.
"I don’t believe in using practice as punishment," Richards said. "Practice is fun and you should be getting something out of it. I go back and I can’t remember doing a practice like (today) here. It wasn’t tough at all (deciding on a hard practice), it was actually easy."
The normal jocularity was noticeably absent from the players on the ice. In its place was a contrite bunch that seemed to know what was coming their way like a freight train rolling down the tracks. Richards’ voice could be heard plainly within the empty arena, loudly urging the players to "hustle, hustle" and "don’t be soft."
"We weren’t good last night," he said. "I don’t think we competed hard enough. If you don’t want to work in games, we’ll work in practice."
While it was only a 50-minute practice, the pace was such that players were bent over at the waist to catch their breath between repetitions of the various drills. With Richards encouraging them to keep up the pace, by the time they were finished, there were some tired legs on the ice.
The players were expecting this after dropping their sixth game in a row Tuesday night. Even after practice, there was a quiet intensity to their body language as they took off their practice uniforms.
"I don’t know if it’s excuses or self-pity," said forward Jack Skille. "We’ve got to come out as a more desperate hockey team. It’s hard to win in this league. It’s hard to stay in this league as a player. And I know that, firsthand."
Skille was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks seventh overall in the 2005 NHL Draft. Since then, he’s bounced back and forth between the NHL and the AHL.
"Our team identity is hard work," he said. "As far as hard work goes, it’s been pretty much nonexistent for a few periods at a time every game. So, it has to be hard work and smart team structure for the entire 60 minutes."
Like Nick Foligno Tuesday night after the game, Skille didn’t mince his words when trying to explain what might be ailing the team, causing this run of poor play.
"With all of the emphasis about injuries that have been put on the guys, maybe we’ve been complacent from that standpoint thinking ‘oh well, guys are injured’ and it becomes a self-pity thing.
"We’ve got to get over that," Skille continued. "Guys in the lineup are getting opportunities. I take that to heart. I want to win games and I know that I’ve got to be better. I think that every single guy needs to feel that way."
Time will tell if the message was received by all of the players in the room. When Todd Richards doesn’t have to reference "too many passengers" after a game, then you’ll know that the message hit home.
Forwards Scott Hartnell, Nick Foligno and Matt Calvert were not on the ice for practice Wednesday. Todd Richards said that they all took maintenance days and would be ready to go for Friday’s tilt in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Defenseman Ryan Murray (knee) is still listed as day-to-day after having what Richards described Tuesday as a "minor setback."
Defenseman James Wisniewski (broken finger) could return to the lineup as soon as this weekend, according to Richards.
Todd Richards has not made a decision about whether to start Curtis McElhinney or Anton Forsberg Friday in Carolina.
Defenseman Jack Johnson has been suspended for three games by the NHL Deptartment of Player Safety for an illegal hit to the head on Carolina’s Jiri Tlusty Tuesday night in Columbus. Johnson will miss games against Carolina (Fri.), Tampa Bay (Sat.) and Washington (Tue.).