Murray returns, Leopold at forward and Oscar Goldman
"There are teams that play fast. But these guys are one of the top teams, as far as playing with speed from their transition and from their defensive zone. These guys skate; and what makes them fast is their execution."
Beyond knowing their opposition, Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards was prophetic when he made the above statement about the Tampa Bay Lightning yesterday after morning skate. It came to pass at the end of 60 minutes of play last night, with Columbus on the short-side of the 3-1 loss.
While the loss doesn't help the cause, there were many good things to take from this game. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, rookie Alex Wennberg continues to impress. Late in the first period, he picked off a pass to the Bolts Steven Stamkos in the neutral zone. Coming into the Tampa zone short-handed, he made a sublime, spinning pass across the slot to Brandon Dubinsky, who then 'pinged' it off the goalpost.
Goaltender Curtis McElhinney had a decent game, making 31 saves on the night, and might have come away with the win if he'd had a little help in front of him. Defenseman Jordan Leopold, in the lineup for the first time since December 13, played as a forward in place of the late scratch of Matt Calvert. He saw 8:27 of ice-time and was credited with two hits.
"I've had the opportunity and the great fortune to play a lot of hockey games throughout my career," Leopold said. "I was excited and ready to go when I got the phone call."
"Hockey is a read-and-react game. And of course there's positioning to it. Like I said, I've seen a lot of forwards in my career and you tend to know what their tendencies are and what they do. It's just about being in the right place at the right time and making simple plays."
Another cause celebre was the return to the lineup of second-year defenseman Ryan Murray after a second, lengthy stay on Injured Reserve. He missed the first eight games of the season, played in just four after that before shutting it down for the next 36 games.
"The last time I came back," said Murray before the game, "I thought I felt great. But, I feel a lot better now. I want to help the team win, any way I can."
Paired with David Savard, Murray assisted on the third period Ryan Johansen goal for his first point of the season in 19:10 of ice-time. What was plainly evident when Murray took to the ice was the sense of calm that he brings, like spreading oil on the water. His poise and decision-making with the puck slows the game down to the benefit of both him and the team.
"It felt pretty normal," Murray said of the speed of the game. "It didn't feel too bad. They're a good team though, a fast team."
Last season, Murray saw the majority of his time on the ice paired with veteran defenseman James Wisniewski. At times, they displayed an almost big bother/little brother vibe.
"He was obviously down in the dumps for a while," Wisniewski said of Murray's time on IR, "not understanding why he wasn't getting any better. I've been through some knee problems and I kept telling him it's going to get better. You're going to turn that corner and get over the hump."
"It's a big relief for him now to come back and play hockey. You can see a difference in the way he's acting. He's got a little more pop in his step."
While the return of Ryan Murray to the land of healthy players is a cause for joy, it has created a glut of D-men on the blue line. The club is now carrying nine defensemen, twelve forwards and two goalies.
They do not want to risk losing via a waiver claim Jordan Leopold, Cody Goloubef or even Dalton Prout by assigning them to the Springfield Falcons. A trade happening sometime in the not too distant future seems the most likely scenario with 34 games remaining on a season that many would rather forget.
They are still a young team that is now beginning to mature. No one could have foreseen the staggering amount of injuries the team would face this season. It is what it is and there's no use in crying over spilled milk. The Blue Jackets have many of the core pieces already in-place and getting better through addition, not rebuilding, is the name of the game for them.
The words of Oscar Goldman from a long-ago television series seem somewhat appropriate, if taken with some poetic license, in describing Ryan Murray and the state of the Blue Jackets moving forward. "Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man. Better than he was before. Better... stronger... faster."
While not bionic, the Blue Jackets can indeed be better, stronger and faster.