The Columbus Blue Jackets’ (3-1-0) Monday morning practice at the Dispatch Ice Haus was full of smiles, and for good reason.
The 2009-10 squad returned to Ohio over the weekend after winning two out of three games in its first West Coast road swing of the season.
The Blue Jackets now prepare for a hard-hitting game tonight against the Calgary Flames (4-1-0) in a 7 p.m. faceoff at Nationwide Arena.
“We have a great group in this locker room, and guys were having fun out there in practice with good hard work,” said captain Rick Nash, who leads the team with six points, including two goals and four assists. “It’s a good team to be around right now. Everyone gets along together and when you’re winning it makes everything comfortable.”
The Blue Jackets are showing the rest of the NHL that the franchise’s first playoff appearance a season ago was not an accident.
On the road against opposing-team home openers, Columbus defeated Vancouver, 5-3, on Oct. 5 before shutting out the Phoenix Coyotes, 2-0, last Saturday in Phoenix.
“The start has been great and two out of three road wins are huge,” Nash said. “We just want to keep this going and we’ll be fine. [Calgary is] a good team and they made some huge trades in the summer with signings. We are going to have our hands full, but we’ll have our home fans behind us.”
One of Calgary’s main offseason additions was defenseman Jay Bouwmeester from the Florida Panthers, who was considered one of the top free-agent signings in summer 2009.
Standing at 6 feet 4 inches, the native of Edmonton, Alberta, has claimed 206 points in 476 career NHL games and will look to cause problems for Columbus offensively.
“It’s going to be a rough game and they are a big tough team,” forward Derek Dorsett said. “We are just going to have to match it. We have to worry about our game and go after them.”
On the defensive side, the confidence the Blue Jackets have begins with their success at goalie.
Starter and 2008-09 Rookie of the Year Steve Mason is 2-1 in front of the net with a .906 save percentage, and veteran backup Mathieu Garon won in his Columbus debut against the Coyotes, claiming a shutout with 36 saves.
“Having a goalie back there is like your quarterback,” defenseman Marc Methot said. “Usually the outcomes of the games rely on your goaltender and having that backup you can really trust and not worrying about when he gets in between the pipes is huge. As a defenseman, we can’t ask for more. It makes us more comfortable back there and we don’t play as tentative.”
Against the power play, the Blue Jackets have killed 17 of 18 penalties.
“We know we can kill penalties and a good penalty-killing team can go real far in season,” said Garon, who signed a two-year contract last July with Columbus. “I think when you can get out of situations like that without getting scored on, it’s a plus for the team and a way we can be successful.”
With one of the youngest squads in the league, the Blue Jackets will need to be physical from the start and look for an early lead in tonight’s Western Conference matchup.
“It’s big for our confidence,” Methot said. “We can go out there and play with a little bit of swagger and our offense can really get things going. They’re not worried about getting yelled at or making too many mistakes.”