Blue Jackets seeing contributions from young players and vets
Over the weekend, Columbus head coach Todd Richards made mention of the fact that the veteran players weren't playing the game the way they should be during a four-game losing streak.
"We need more out of those guys if we're going to turn this thing around," he said.
With no sense of urgency, veteran leadership was needed.
Starting with a 3-1 win versus Vancouver and continuing with a 4-1 victory against New Jersey, it happened.
On Tuesday evening, in front of 14,357 fans, the veterans stepped up.
Veteran defenseman James Wisniewski, after missing the morning skate due to a bout with a stomach virus/flu-like symptoms, was a game time decision on whether he would dress for the tilt or be scratched.
Post-game, the look on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s face was priceless when Wisniewski asked him (they sit next to each other in the dressing room) if he saw the pink energy fluid drink that Wiz vomited on the ice in front of Bobrovsky, but Wisniewski dressed and put up impressive numbers for being under the weather. He notched one goal and two assists for three points and was a +2 on the night.
"It's a credit to the team after losing four games in a row, then winning a big game on Sunday (Vancouver). Then coming back today and beating a good team (New Jersey). We showed a lot of character in the way we played. It took us a little while to get going but, we found a way to win.
"Our style of game is 'mucking and grinding.' When we get away from our game, and myself having a turnover at the blueline and they came down on a 3-on-2, when we start doing those things is when we get in trouble. When we get the pucks behind their defense and really grind it out, use our speed and tenacity, that's when we're at our best."
In addition to Wisniewski, other veterans stepped up, too. Brandon Dubinsky (1-1-2, +3), Marian Gaborik (1-0-1, +1) and RJ Umberger (0-1-1, even +/-) got on the score sheet.
Young players on this club have been steadily upping their game also. Cam Atkinson (1-0-1, +2) had a nifty backhand shot that potted a goal. Rookies Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray were both +2 on the night.
"I think our veteran players have stepped up and picked up their game," Richards said. "I think some of the young guys have done the same. The young players are pushing and doing some things and we needed our veteran guys to up their games. To me, they've taken it in the right direction."
Murray, a defenseman, has quietly been flying under the radar while playing smart hockey. Because of this, he's been rewarded with more ice time and more responsibility. Against the Devils, he had 18:04 TOI, with 2:47 of that coming on special teams (power play, specifically). He is a student of the game and takes advice from the veteran players with ease.
At one point during a stoppage in play, Dubinsky talked with him.
"He just grabbed me and told me on my one-timer that I took to stay more in the middle of the ice, don't drop off so much, that I would get a better angle," Murray explained.
He handles this added responsibility humbly.
"I'm just glad to get the opportunity and I want to take advantage of it," he said.
Columbus' Development Coach, Chris Clark, has seen Murray and Jenner begin their development into NHL players. He doesn't express surprise at their development this year. He was all smiles, as he always is, when talking about these two young men.
"I'm extremely happy with the way their development is going," he said. "With Boone Jenner, I saw him a lot last year in Junior. When he made the step to the AHL, he played the exact same way in Springfield (Falcons, AHL) as he did in Junior. And as he's making this step from Traverse City (prospects tournament) to training camp to here, he's playing the exact same way. It's translating into him having success. He's taking each step and playing the same way which is the way he has to play and the way he's going to play for the next 15-20 years."
Within the organization, from President of Hockey Operations John Davidson down to his defensive partner, Wisniewski, everyone is impressed with the poise and skill that Murray has shown.
"I'm a little surprised because of (Murray) not playing (after shoulder surgery) since mid-November last year," Clark said. "So, he didn't play a game for eight or nine months. Then going into Traverse City, he played great, in training camp, everything.
"What surprises me is his poise. It's the way that he handles the puck under pressure. I think of myself, 10 years into my career I didn't have that (poise). Especially when he's the last guy back at that blueline with the puck, under pressure he makes the same play as he would when nobody’s on him. It’s a credit to his abilities."
"He doesn't look for the homerun pass. He's very simple. But then, all of a sudden, he will make that breakaway pass where nobody else would have seen that on the ice. From up here, where we're sitting (coaches room on the press level), we don't even see it until it's made. At this point in his progression, who knows what it’s going to be, but there’s a very significant high side."
What's refreshing about the Columbus Blue Jackets is that they don't feel as though they have to rush a player anymore. With the depth of this organization, a player such as Murray can progress at a more natural pace, being given responsibility when he earns it. And that puts a whole new perspective on things.