Crashing the Net: Murray practices and Collins more comfortable

Blue Jackets center Sean Collins is feeling more comfortable playing in the NHL.

Columbus, Ohio – After a desultory pair of losses over the weekend and a day off yesterday, head coach Todd Richards put the Blue Jackets through practice Monday morning at Nationwide Arena.

There was a hard, fast pace to the drills, with Richards barking commands to move faster. When a drill didn’t go exactly the way he wanted, the players rewound and repeated the drill. By the end of the hour-long practice the players were drenched in sweat and a bit short of breath.

"We needed a work day," said Richards, "and today was a work day. We had two disappointing performances, a day off… today was a work day. Tomorrow, we’ll work on more systematic things."

Noticeably absent from practice were Scott Hartnell and James Wisniewski, both ill but expected to be at practice Tuesday. Cam Atkinson and Mark Letestu were also absent, which Richards chalked-up to maintenance days for them. They are both expected to practice tomorrow, too.

Injured defenseman Ryan Murray took part in practice for about the first 40 minutes, getting strength back into his twice-scoped knee. He’s not close to returning and the club is keeping a very careful eye on his rehabilitation, but this is a good sign after not practicing with his teammates in over two months.

"It was a harder skate today with the way that we’re setting up his schedule," said Richards. "It’s more just being allotted time in practice. It’s not about keeping him out of drills or restrictions, it’s more of we’re going to give him ‘x’ amount of time during practice. And when that time hits, he’s done. It’s good to have him back out on the ice."

Collins fitting in

Center Sean Collins has been back and forth between Columbus and the Springfield Falcons a few times already this season. He’s played 28 games for the Falcons this season, recording 10 goals and 9 assists for 19 points. In seven games with the big club, he’s 0-2-2, but he does feel as if he’s fitting-in with the ‘lunch pail’ identity of this Blue Jackets club.

"We have a lot of good, veteran voices in the room and we’ve got a special team," he said. "We show it in spurts and flashes. We just need to be more consistent."

He appears to have become more comfortable in his role when playing in Columbus this season. That calmness shows on the ice, although he’s not afraid to use his 6-foot-1 frame to throw some hard hits. In his last game versus the New York Islanders, he had two shots on goal and was credited with three hits.

"In this last stint," he said of the most recent recall, "I feel more comfortable on the ice. I feel like I’m using my size, my skating and just playing physical to wear on teams down low. It’s nice to make a contribution and I hope that I can stay up for the rest of the year."

The Cornell University graduate was drafted by the Blue Jackets 187th overall in the 2008 draft. He’s played 18 games for Columbus over the last three seasons and is considered a cerebral player with good instincts for the game. The jury is still out on whether he’ll develop enough to find a permanent home on the roster eventually. The Blue Jackets bench boss likes what he’s seeing from Collins in this most recent callup.

"He looks stronger and faster," Richards said. "He looks more comfortable out on the ice. I think there were times in the past where there was that fear of making a mistake, which held him back."

"With his speed, his strength and his battles… he doesn’t look out of place. I think there’s still more there that he can do. I think him getting more ice-time will hopefully bring that out."

This and that

LUNCH PAIL PLAY OF THE WEEK

There were many people stringing cable from different networks today within the arena in advance of the NHL All-Star Weekend January 22-25. It is also anticipated that the All-Star captains’ names will be announced Wednesday. A matchup that would be nice to see is Team Foligno vs. Team Nash. Just imagine the storylines to some out of that potential matchup…

Richards was noncommittal in picking a winner for Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship game between Oregon and Ohio State. He thinks the game will come down to the last possession and he hopes that "Ohio State has that last possession."

The Blue Jackets practice Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m. and host the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday at 7 p.m. to mark the halfway point of the season for Columbus.