Crashing the Net: A positive step forward
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Coaches and players often talk about taking positives out of a loss. Tuesday’s loss to the Washington Capitals was not different in that regard. What makes the words carry a bit more meaning and weight this time is that the players likened the way they played, especially in the third period, to the way they played the latter half of last year.
"I think it was the attitude of the players," said head coach Todd Richards. "There was some pushback and a little more physicality. And we had four lines that were contributing."
Their line changes were crisp and they were dictating play in the offensive zone, coming at the Capitals in waves. This was reminiscent of last spring as they rediscovered their identity, getting in on the forecheck and cycling the puck.
The bottom six forwards on the team have not brought a lot of energy to the games this year. That is until Tuesday night. Two standouts among those forwards in that game were Corey Tropp and Adam Cracknell. Ironically, both were waiver pickups.
Tropp was claimed off waivers from Buffalo in November 2013. Cracknell was claimed just at this season was starting from Los Angeles. Also, it looks as if Cracknell will be in Columbus for awhile, as he was told to "get a place" to live here Wednesday afternoon.
Tropp had five hits in 10:27 TOI with Cracknell also registering five hits in 10:35 TOI. Between the two of them, they accounted for twenty-five percent of all hits by the Blue Jackets.
"A day before that trip (to Washington)," said Cracknell, "we all got together and talked about what our role is and how important it is to this team. We expect to keep the energy and positivity on our bench, no matter what the score is. We try to get guys going certain ways, like changing in the offensive zone to get other guys out there that have those offensive capabilities"
Tuesday night they were a big part of keeping the momentum going and Todd Richards showed more trust in them by rolling four lines.
"We had momentum," Cracknell said, "a lot of big hits and a couple of big shifts where we were taking pucks to the net. I felt as a team that our energy was better. We did get scored on in our first shift, but we didn’t get down about it. We pushed back. We had the mentality of taking the game to the Capitals. Obviously, the result is not what we wanted. But, we took a step forward instead of a step backward."
Many of the guys in the room said Wednesday that the way they played much of the game against Washington reminded them of last year. Despite the loss, it was a good feeling that they can build on moving forward.
"If they’re saying it," said Richards, "then they know it and they feel it, too. You want positives to build confidence. If guys are feeling good about the game and feeling good about doing things a certain way… what I liked about (Tuesday) was there was a focus going into the game. To me, the guys were ‘on cue.’ I thought we were focused and we were ready. I thought we were engaged into the game and that our game started to follow."
The next step is playing this way consistently over the course of 60 minutes. They’ve proven to themselves that they know how. The first step is believing that they can do it.
This and that
Defenseman Jack Johnson is poised to make his return to the lineup after serving the final game of a three-game suspension. Sitting out three games for an illegal hit to the head of the Carolina Hurricanes Jiri Tlusty last week, he’ll draw back in on Friday versus the Philadelphia Flyers.
Artem Anisimov (concussion), Mat Calvert (lower body) and Sergei Bobrovsky (fractured finger) could all return to the lineup as soon as Friday against the Flyers, according to Todd Richards. One of these players drawing back in is tremendous. Two or more would be outstanding for the injury-ravaged Blue Jackets.
The team will practice Thursday morning in Columbus before flying to Philadelphia that afternoon. Updates on many of the injured players should be forthcoming after practice.