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Game Preview: New Year, Fresh Start

Welcome to 2018! The Columbus Blue Jackets start the calendar year with a two game Western road trip. First up is a trip to Dallas.

Our old buddy Ken Hitchcock has returned to the city where he won a Stanley Cup and has the Stars back in playoff contention after a disappointing season last year. They share a record with the Blue Jackets and are also sixth in the conference, but are fourth in the top-heavy Central Division. Their top line featuring Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin is as dangerous as always, but there are some new additions making an impact. Alexander Radulov has 32 points already, and Big Ben Bishop’s 2.55 GAA and .914 save % is much better than the Lehtonen/Niemi duo produced last year.

Our Blue Jackets limped into the holiday with a three game losing streak, including a blown lead at Ottawa, and a 5-0 demolishing by Tampa. On Monday, Zac Dalpe was recalled from Cleveland on an emergency basis.

The big news from Monday’s practice is the end to the acclaimed PB&J line. This is initially worrying, as that line has been the only consistently productive forward line over the last six weeks. After some thought, however, I can see the logic behind. Josh Anderson has played well with any linemates, so he can move around and help someone else. Nick Foligno has been struggling at center, so move him back to center and put him in Anderson’s position next to the red hot Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin. Boone Jenner returns to center. Eep.

Another major change: no more “Safe is Death.” Per Aaron Portzline at The Athletic:

An alarming sight in the Blue Jackets’ dressing room on Monday: The sign that reads “Safe Is Death” was no longer hanging above the main entry door, but was instead leaned against the wall above the cabinets where stick tape is stored.

John Tortorella’s mantra, one he’s carried from his earliest days as an NHL coach in Tampa Bay, has died, a casualty of the Blue Jackets’ sloppy play of late.

Tortorella took the sign down today when he addressed the team before they took the ice for the longest practice of the season — 1 hour, 15 minutes.

“I just took it to another level today, taking the sign down,” Tortorella said. “That’s not what we can be as a team right now. A little bit has to do with personnel, but a little bit has to do with just our overall play.

“I think we need to get back to our foundation, our structure … I don’t want to play safer, but play smarter. So we took the sign down.”

We’ll see if this new approach helps. I do think a simpler game will help this team. It appears that some players were thinking too much rather than just playing. The roving defensemen put more responsibility on forwards to cover and they weren’t suited to that role.

Projected Lineups

Artemi Panarin Pierre-Luc Dubois Nick Foligno
Sonny Milano Boone Jenner Josh Anderson
Matt Calvert Lukas Sedlak Oliver BJORKSTRAND
Tyler Motte Zac Dalpe Markus Hannikainen/Jordan Schroeder
Zach Werenski Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara David Savard
Scott Harrington Jack Johnson
Sergei Bobrovsky
Joonas Korpisalo
Jamie Benn Tyler Seguin Devin Shore
Mattias Janmark Jason Spezza Alexander Radulov
Antoine Roussel Radek Faksa Tyler Pitlick
Remi Elie Gemel Smith Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis Greg Pateryn
Stephen Johns Julius Honka
Ben Bishop
Kari Lehtonen