COLUMBUS, Ohio – The sound of sticks and pucks filled the emptiness of the friendly confines Monday morning as the Blue Jackets returned to practice following a day off. There wasn’t a whole lot of zip to the pace as they began the drills. It was reminiscent of the slow start to games they’ve had recently.
It may have been a bit of grogginess or perhaps needing to recalibrate themselves to the practice routine after a day off, but eight minutes after practice started, head coach Todd Richards stopped it and called all the players over to the side of the rink.
"Faster" and "better", amid a few other choice words, wafted up to the media assembled in the seats of the lower bowl. Moments later, the restart button was pressed and they began anew. As they rotated through the drills, there was a marked improvement in the pace. Richards could be heard urging them to "Dig! Dig! Dig!" as the players whooshed past him down the ice.
"I didn’t like the way we started," said Richards. "We started slow and sloppy. Once they got into it, then it got a little better."
They kept the pace up as practice wore on before going into the battle drills that have been a hallmark of their identity. The intensity of these drills was refreshing to see from a team enmeshed in an eight-game losing streak.
Unlike during a game in which they have a slow start, he can stop the practice to counsel his charges.
"What I’ve found in the past with this group," he said of the slow start, "is it follows a day off. It’s also just not being prepared. I think there’s a little bit of both. When you have those days off, you do come out a little flat, energy-wise."
"But, it’s their job when they show up and hit the ice that they’re ready to work."
The intensity of the battle drills showed that some of the guys were treating this practice as almost game-like. Defenseman David Savard was treating the work along the boards with particular gusto. There was no malice shown to his teammates, but he wasn’t slow-dancing with them, either.
Forward Nick Foligno was another that was crashing the boards and competing hard to win the puck, spinning away from players that were trying to rob him of the puck.
Following the end of the drills, many players elected to stay on the ice and work on different aspects of their game that need improvement. This is a marked difference showing that maybe the message of working hard and having a better compete-level are sinking in.
They play the Washington Capitals on Veteran Day (Tuesday) at the Verizon Center in the nations’ capital, with the puck dropping at 7 p.m.
Both forward Jack Skille and defenseman Fedor Tyutin were absent from practice on Monday after being banged up in the game Saturday versus Tampa Bay. Todd Richards said decisions on if either or both players play against the Capitals would be made Tuesday.
"I’m expecting them to play. But one or both may not (play)," said Richards. In the event that Tyutin (undisclosed injury) cannot play, the team will have to recall a defenseman from Springfield. Skille is still feeling the effects of sliding into the boards hard on Saturday. Richards said it was an "upper body" issue that kept Skille out of practice.
Bobrovsky and Calvert closest to returning
When asked for a timeline on the return of injured players, Richards said "Yeah, there’s a huge list (injuries)."
Richards said that goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (fractured finger) and forward Matt Calvert (lower body) were the closest to returning of the injured players. Although neither of those players will play in Tuesday’s game, Friday’s game in Philadelphia could see the return of one or both of those players.
Defenseman Ryan Murray is day-to-day and still getting looked at according to Richards.
It was rookie center Alex Wennberg’s turn for the "Five Questions" treatment. These are his answers…
What’s your favorite automobile? "I think my favorite car is the Audi R8. I think that’s one of the coolest cars and the one I’d really like." The Audi R8 (Type 2) is a mid-engine, two seat sports car. It is based on the Lamborghini Gallardo platform and uses Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive.
What’s your favorite band? "It’s so difficult to pick just one. I go from acoustic music to DJ’s and stuff. I think I’ll stick to Swedish House Mafia. It’s not really a band, but I’ll stick with the Swedish stuff. See if any of the other guys like that", he said laughingly.
Do you prefer the mountains or the beach? "I would say the beach. I love the sun and being out there relaxing. It would be the easy choice."
If you could be a pro athlete in any other sport, what sport would that be? "That would be an easy choice. I would pick soccer. I’ve been playing it almost as long as I’ve been playing hockey. I mean, if I couldn’t play hockey, it would be soccer for sure."
Where in the world would you live? "Columbus. (Yes, he laughed when he said this, but in a good way) I don’t know the exact spot, but I would say somewhere on a beach in the tropics. I’ve been to the beaches in Spain a lot, so I’d probably say that because I’m familiar with it."