It has been six games since forward Matt Calvert went out of the Blue Jackets’ lineup because of an abdominal tear that required surgery.
Calvert would not be considered a superstar, but the way he plays with speed and tenacity makes him the embodiment of what the Blue Jackets believe is their identity, and that’s why Calvert’s absence the past two weeks has been so pronounced.
“We’re still adjusting, still trying to find combinations,” coach Todd Richards said. “Losing Matty affected us in a lot of ways. Depthwise, just trying to find somebody to play the minutes he played for us. The energy and the tenacity he played with … that really was our identity last year.”
Calvert had surgery on Oct. 16 in Philadelphia. He’s expected back in early December. In his absence, rookie Boone Jenner has played more, including more than 20 minutes on Oct. 17 at Montreal, but Richards mostly has ridden the hot hand on a nightly basis.
The Blue Jackets’ forward lines, in a virtual swirl since the start of the season, have been mostly settled during a two-game winning streak. Richards likely will stick with them for a game on Friday against Atlantic Division-leading Toronto.
The lines have been: Nick Foligno-Artem Anisimov-Marian Gaborik; Jenner-Brandon Dubinsky-Cam Atkinson; Blake Comeau-Ryan Johansen-R.J. Umberger; and Mark Letestu-Derek MacKenzie-Jared Boll.
“We’ve gotten back on track as far as defending, playing to our strengths and our identity,” Richards said. “Chancewise, what we’re giving up is closer to what we have to do to be successful. But we still have a lot of things we can do better. We’re not there yet.”
Bass getting close
Forward Cody Bass, who suffered a broken left thumb during the exhibition season, joined the Blue Jackets for an optional practice. He has not been cleared for contact, so he likely won’t take part in today’s full practice. But he could return within seven to 10 days.
“Right now, the goal is to get him healthy, get him ready to play,” Richards said. “Then we’ll have to decide what we’re going to do with him.”
Bass, who has appeared in 48 NHL games, is signed to a two-way contract. He would need to clear waivers before he could be sent to minor-league Springfield.
Nikitin on the outs
Defenseman Nikita Nikitin has been a healthy scratch the past two games. That’s unlikely to change against the Maple Leafs.
Richards agreed that Nikitin’s early season struggles mirrored those of last season, when he suffered a rash of turnovers and errant passes. Nikitin turned it around in the final two months, and Richards said he knows how.
“You get everything in this game from skating,” Richards said. “It doesn’t matter what position you play, forward or defense. If you get stationary, it’s tough to make plays and you’re easy to check.
“He’s not alone in the boat. We have other defensemen who are struggling, too. But to me the big difference in Nikki — the change we need to see there — is his skating.”