COLUMBUS, Ohio- In the midst of a six-game losing streak, the team looks to refocus on tighter play and rediscovering their identity. Twenty-four after participating in the hardest practice skate under head coach Todd Richards, they skated with a newfound verve.
Richards, as he always is wont to do, was thoughtful with his assessment of the team after Wednesday’s hard practice and today’s follow-up time on the ice.
"There were some good things," he said. "It started a little slow and a little sloppy. But as we got into it, we did some team-specific things that I thought we got some good things out of."
While they may have been more relaxed, their renewed focus was a welcome sign for a team in the midst of a six game losing streak. The passing was much crisper amid the uptempo pace.
"They clearly had a focus yesterday," said Richards Thursday. "It took them a little bit to get going today. Again, that comes down to the maturity level of the group. We got better as the practice wore on. That’s where we have to get better, being ready to start practice on time and being ready to go."
Clearly, it’s baby steps at this point in turning around the mindset brought on by the losses. Focusing on their foundation of being a hard working team that is tough to play against is where it has to start.
One area that Richards wants to see improved play is in the faceoff circle. Tuesday night against Carolina, they won merely 37 percent of the faceoffs. Nick Foligno being their best man in the faceoff circle, winning 50 percent of his eight draws.
"Our whole team," Richards said, "we were all off the last game. That was one place that we got drilled and we have to be better. I mean, you talk about battles during the game and not being good in those battles — a lot of times, we look at faceoffs. That’s a pretty good indicator and we got killed in the faceoff circle. It trickled into every aspect of our game."
Taking it one day at a time, the team flies to Carolina Thursday afternoon in advance of Friday’s tilt versus the Hurricanes.
"Everything I’ve heard about Bob is that he’s progressing and doing well," Todd Richards said when asked about the injured goaltender. Sergei Bobrovsky, on Injured Reserve since October 28, fractured his finger on October 27.
"Talking with Clarkie [goaltending coach Ian Clark]," Richards continued. "He has started some little things as far as catching pucks. What that means is I don’t know if [Clark] is throwing pucks into his glove or flipping the pucks into his glove. But they’ve progressed."
It sure looks as if defenseman James Wisniewski, out of the lineup with a broken finger, will make his return Friday in Carolina. "I haven’t gotten the full clearance yet," said Richards, "but he participated in practice and we used him with all of the lines. I’m expecting him to play."
Even though the coach was noncommittal about Wiz drawing back into the lineup, he said, "To be honest with you, watching him out on the ice I didn’t even think he had an injury. To me, he looked the same [healthy]."
He also said that no decision has been made yet on whether a defenseman will be recalled from the Springfield Falcons in advance of Friday’s game with Jack Johnson serving his three-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Carolina’s Jiri Tlusty. Ryan Murray (knee) is still day-to-day, according to Richards. He also said that surgery for the young defenseman has not been discussed.
Forsberg or McElhinney?
Richards said that he’ll make a decision on which goaltender will start Friday against the Hurricanes this afternoon. McElhiney has struggled to control his rebounds lately and Forsberg looked pretty good in his first NHL start last Saturday.
"Forsberg was good," he said. "Talking with Ian Clark, he liked his game. He liked how he competed and played. He handles the puck well when he comes out [of the crease]. The game that he played in New Jersey, he was pretty good. In practices, he’s been fine."