Talk in Columbus during the Blue Jackets offseason often focused on new coach Scott Arniel’s up-tempo, high-octane offensive system. Meanwhile, fans wondered if a new coach would turn the team around after one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.
After 15 games, it’s clear that the transition from former coach Ken Hitchcock’s read-and-react style to Arniel’s is still a work in progress.
Ideally, Arniel would like to push a defender up the ice to help on the attack, creating offense by controlling the puck and limiting the opponent’s space.
“It’s kind of meat and potatoes, get the puck deep and get the puck on the net,” Blue Jackets center Kyle Wilson said. “The way the NHL is these days, sure you see the pretty goals on the highlight reels every day, but 95 percent of them are goals in and around the net. These days, that’s how you’re going to win hockey games.”
Former Buckeye and current Blue Jackets center R.J. Umberger said the system can be fun as long as the team gets up the ice without turning over the puck.
“I think that we have a lot more responsibility, and as long as we’re making smart, sound plays with the puck and protecting it, we get a leash and can go out there and do a little bit more with it,” Umberger said.
The Jackets’ defense has been turning in the most impressive performances in the first 15 games. The worry with Arniel’s system is that it can lead to two-on-one breakaways for the opposition, especially when the defenders are moving up the ice and into an attacking position. Yet the team ranks 20th in the league in goals per game, with 2.7, and 10th in the league in goals against, with 2.5 per game.
The Jackets are 9-6, good enough for fourth place in the competitive Western Conference Central Division. Right wing Jakub Voracek said the wins column will fill up if the team is more consistent.
“We’ll play well for two or three games and then we’ll just have a blowout game,” Voracek said. “We’ve just got to figure this system out and we’ve got to play even better.”
Jackets defenseman Anton Stralman agreed with Voracek’s assertion but said he likes where the team is headed under Arniel.
“I think the system has been good, you know, obviously it’s getting results,” Stralman said. “We’re a better team this year than we were last year, so we just have to be more consistent and put the effort in every game.”
The Jackets will start the week by traveling to Los Angeles, where they will play the Kings on Wednesday at the Staples Center.