Sat. May 25th, 2024

The Columbus Blue Jackets enter Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders relatively healthy. The only exception to that is Patrik Laine, who is still on injured reserve and will miss a fourth straight game.

This good bout of health, knock on wood, has forced the Blue Jackets into some tough decisions regarding their lineup. Some prominent players have found themselves on the outside looking in.

Kent Johnson was the latest example of a good, young player who found himself out of the lineup on Thursday. Would this happen again? Or would coach Pascal Vincent go in a different direction despite playing well enough to get a point?

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Although the Blue Jackets’ morning skate told one story, Vincent had another. He said on Saturday that they still haven’t decided who will be scratched. All indications do point to Kirill Marchenko being the scratch. He wasn’t in line rushes. He also was the last Blue Jacket on the ice working on skills. But it’s possible he could still play if the team decides that over the afternoon.

As long as the Blue Jackets stay healthy like this, they’ll constantly have to make these tough decisions. Vincent said that he had a meeting with the forwards on Saturday. Not only were expectations delivered to them, they were put on notice about upcoming playing time.

It’s All About Performance

Vincent is trying to establish a culture of healthy competition within the Blue Jackets. If a player doesn’t play well enough, he will sit. Here’s Vincent on that meeting and what he expects moving forward regarding decisions on who plays.

“It’s gonna be a tough one,” Vincent said. “So the league rule says 20 players. We had a good chat with our forwards today. It’s crystal clear. (We) can only dress 12, so we’re gonna make some hard decisions. We told them this morning that it’s all about performance. It’s the NHL. It’s not great for some of them because sometimes we’re gonna make decisions that they don’t deserve to sit out.”

“But we’re healthy and we have guys in the American League that are pushing. We have guys that are producing right now. So we met with all of them. And it’s gonna be about practice habits, gym habits, being a good teammate and performance in the game. And sometimes nobody will deserve to sit out, but we’ll have to make some tough decisions.”

Pascal Vincent held a meeting and told his forwards performance will dictate who plays. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Johnson has been healthy scratched for two games now. Jack Roslovic and Emil Bemstrom each were scratched for a game. Now they’re among the best forwards of late in terms of production. Vincent is continuing to pound the point home that nothing is given and everything is earned. If they’re not playing to their potential and someone else deserves to play, this coaching staff has shown no fear in making changes.

Defense Waiting Their Turn

These tough decisions go beyond the forwards. Two experienced defensemen continue to wait their turn for their next chance at game action.

Andrew Peeke is set to miss his seventh consecutive game while Adam Boqvist will miss his fifth straight game. Coach Vincent says the six who are playing deserve to be playing based on how recent games have gone.

“We’re not looking to make changes. It’s just, I’ve said that in training camps, the players will dictate how we coach,” Vincent said. And so far we feel our d-core has been playing well despite, and it’s all about the process, right? The wins and the losses matter in that decision. But it’s not the only component. And we feel our 6D are playing well enough to stay in the lineup and everything else. Our two extra d-men are working hard and they’re trying everything they can to come back in the lineup. And that’s their job right now. A little bit of patience, but we know they’re good defensemen and once they’re in, then that’s gonna be their job to keep that spot.”

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Peeke in particular has been in recent trade rumors given his lack of playing time. He’s working as hard as he can while waiting his turn for his next opportunity just like Boqvist is. But as Vincent said, it’s their job not only to get back in the lineup, but to keep their spot once they get back in.

Andrew Peeke continues to wait his turn to get back in the Blue Jackets’ lineup. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vincent is clearly setting the bar of expectations for everyone. To this point in the season, the Blue Jackets have played well. They enter Saturday’s game with a 3-2-2 record including points in four straight games collecting six out of eight points.

The main takeaway from all these lineup decisions? Performance matters. Vincent clearly laid out which elements are being evaluated on a daily basis, some of which fans don’t see behind closed doors. It continues to be a work in progress but one in which the Blue Jackets hope elevates them to a level they want to be at when the games matter the most.

Gameday Lineup

Vincent also said that the goaltender is a game-time decision. Elvis Merzlikins was in the starter’s crease but Spencer Martin left the ice first.

This is not an injury situation but a true game-time decision. We are expecting Martin, but check back at warmups for official confirmation.

Here are the lines and pairs the Blue Jackets used during rushes at their morning skate. Lineup subject to change based on Vincent’s comments.

Johnny Gaudreau-Boone Jenner-Jack Roslovic
Alexandre Texier-Adam Fantilli-Emil Bemstrom
Kent Johnson-Cole Sillinger-Justin Danforth
Dmitri Voronkov-Sean Kuraly-Mathieu Olivier
Zach Werenski-Damon Severson
Ivan Provorov-David Jiricek
Jake Bean-Eric Gudbranson
Spencer Martin/Elvis Merzlikins
Kirill Marchenko was an extra.

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