Jack Johnson

Blue Jackets can count defense as a strength

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are going into 2013-14 with more than their fair share of question marks from their goaltending to top-line forwards, but one aspect of their team that looks solid is their defense.

That isn’t because their blueline is stocked full of safe bets, but they have enough strong or at least promising defenseman to make them feel good about that situation even if everything doesn’t work out.

For example, James Wisniewski is a great puck moving defenseman that can eat minutes and is an asset with the man advantage. He’s also dealt with more than his fair share of injuries over the last two seasons, but their team can survive even if he goes down.

That’s due largely because of the presence of Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin. The duo did a fine job headlining the Blue Jackets’ defense in 2013 and are projected to start the 2013-14 campaign as the team’s top pairing. Nikita Nikitin figures to round out the Blue Jackets’ top-four and like the other members, he can be trusted with big minutes.

After that, the Blue Jackets will have a number of young players competing for roster spots, and among them, 19-year-old Ryan Murray is the most intriguing candidate. He probably would have made his NHL debut last season if it wasn’t for a shoulder injury that he sustained during the lockout.

Now that he’s healthy, he could be one of the 2013-14 campaign’s top rookies.

“He’s like a bonus for us after missing all of last season,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen told The Dispatch.

He’ll be competing in training camp with other promising youngsters like Tim Erixon, David Savard, Austin Madaisky, and Cody Goloubef. All four of them have the potential to develop into solid defenseman, but for now Columbus just needs one or two of them to play a supporting role behind their top two pairings.

Hitch’s recipe for more goals is a pretty simple one

Ken Hitchcock, David Backes, Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund
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Ken Hitchcock wants the Blues to spend more time attacking and less time defending.

Because hockey isn’t rocket science, that’s why.

“To score and win games in the National Hockey League…you have to spend as much time in the offensive zone as you can,” Hitchcock told the Post-Dispatch.

“When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, you’re forechecking more. When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, the goalie has to make saves. They’re having to defend more. And the opposing team takes penalties on you. So they’re all connected. … What I want to see from us is staying on the puck for longer stretches.”

According to the stats, the Blues have not been spending as much time in the offensive zone as we’re used to seeing from them. In fact, in their last 20 games, they rank in the bottom third of the league in score-adjusted Corsi. That compares to their first 20 games when they were in the top third.

The result is fewer shots, and more importantly, fewer goals. The Blues have fallen all the way to 25th in offense, averaging just 2.37 goals per game. Last year, they finished fifth (2.91).

Yes, some of that may be due to the absence of Jaden Schwartz, and he should be back soon. But there’s a reason people are watching GM Doug Armstrong as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. This team could probably use another piece up front.

The Blues host Minnesota Saturday.

St. Louis has scored just five goals in its last five games.

Goalie nods: Lindback ‘really excited’ for first start in almost three weeks

Anders Lindback
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Tonight in Anaheim, Anders Lindback will make his first start for the Arizona Coyotes since Jan. 16.

The Coyotes have been riding rookie Louis Domingue since just before Christmas, but Domingue has allowed five goals in each of his last three starts, including last night’s 5-4 loss to Chicago.

Lindback’s last appearance came Tuesday in relief, when he allowed one goal on 10 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Kings.

Lindback was in goal for one of Arizona’s three victories this season over Anaheim, stopping 33 of 36 shots in a 4-3 overtime win on Nov. 9. However, his .896 save percentage ranks among the lowest in the league.

Frederik Andersen is expected to start for the Ducks.

Elsewhere…

— No word yet on a Penguins starter in Tampa, but Ben Bishop will go for the Bolts.

Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes in Winnipeg, where Connor Hellebuyck is expected for the increasingly desperate Jets.

— Joonas Korpisalo was solid last night in Vancouver, but the Blue Jackets have not announced their starter for tonight’s game in Calgary. Karri Ramo will be in goal for the Flames.

A ‘pretty solid two-way player,’ Sundqvist to make NHL debut for Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins' Oskar Sundqvist (49) collides with Minnesota Wild's Jason Zucker (16) in the first period of a NHL preseason hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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The latest Penguins injuries, these ones to Evgeni Malkin and Eric Fehr, have led to an opportunity for Oskar Sundqvist.

Sundqvist will make his NHL debut for the Penguins tonight in Tampa. The 21-year-old center has five goals and 11 assists in 39 AHL games this season.

“Sunny’s a pretty solid two-way player,” coach Mike Sullivan said, per the Tribune-Review.

“I don’t think he’s going to dazzle you with flashy plays, but I think he’s a guy who plays the game the right way. He’s hard to play against because of his size. He’s got a long reach, and he’s got a good stick.”

Sundqvist was selected 81st overall by the Pens in 2012. He’ll become the fourth player out of that Pittsburgh draft class to make his NHL debut, after Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, and Matt Murray.

Veteran Matt Cullen will replace Malkin on the second line, skating with wingers Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.

Related: Nick Bonino out ‘at least a month’ with hand injury

John Scott’s wife gives birth to twin girls

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As if John Scott wasn’t already having a great week, now he’s the proud father of twin girls.

The Montreal Canadiens shared the good news via their Twitter account today.

Scott, the unlikely 2016 All-Star Game MVP, is currently back home in Michigan; however, he’s expected to resume his career at some point with Montreal’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

When, exactly, he suits up for the IceCaps remains to be seen, but it won’t be tonight or tomorrow.

Related: Therrien on Canadiens possibly recalling John Scott: ‘You never know’