Blue Jackets notebook: Horton’s struggles to shoulder load continue

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
High Contrast Normal Version

RALEIGH, N.C. — The search for fresh legs and a more physical brand of hockey led Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards to again scratch forward R.J. Umberger last night at the Carolina Hurricanes.

Richards has scratched Umberger three times in six games, and before that, he pulled right winger Cam Atkinson three times in six games.

So far, Richards hasn’t used his hook as a spur for right wing Nathan Horton, a free-agent signing from last summer who has hit the skids after returning from shoulder surgery. Horton has one goal in his past 23 games, but only if you count the goal he scored in a game against the Dallas Stars that was postponed when Stars forward Rich Peverley collapsed.

“Nathan can be better,” Richards said. “In this game, with anybody, it always comes down to skating and moving your feet.”

But it’s not just the statistical proof that’s lacking. Horton has been fighting the “feel” aspects of the game for many weeks, and his frustration has been palpable. Richards didn’t say if he was considering scratching Horton, but he insisted that no player — even one who signed a seven-year, $37.1 million deal last July — is exempt.

The two have met to talk about his play, Richards said. Last night, Horton was bumped off the top line next to center Ryan Johansen, instead skating on center Artem Anisimov’s line.

“He’s a guy who cares … he wants to be part of this, part of the organization and the turnaround. That’s why he came here; he’s a big part of our franchise,” Richards said. “Everything (including a healthy scratch) is a possibility. Nothing is ruled out. With so many forwards, we have the luxury of possibly making those decisions.”

Last week, Horton said he was frustrated by his play and acknowledged that his offseason shoulder surgery was still affecting his play. The shoulder is healed, he said, but it is still painful, and he hasn’t felt 100 percent comfortable to “run into guys” as he has in previous seasons. Richards’ belief is that he won’t get over the mental hurdle sitting in the press box. He has to play through it.

“There are lingering issues with the shoulder,” Richards said. “Sometimes (after a big surgery like that) you’re out there playing and you’re trying to protect it.”

Back to Mac

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was one of nine players to take part in a morning skate yesterday.

But “he’s still not quite there,” Richards said.

Curtis McElhinney made his second consecutive start in Bobrovsky’s stead last night. It is hoped that after an off day today and a practice day on Monday that Bobrovsky will be rested and ready for the final eight games of the season, in 12 days.

Slap shot

After two straight healthy scratches, defenseman Nikita Nikitin was back in the lineup, taking Nick Schultz’s spot on the third pair with David Savard.

aportzline@dispatch.com

@Aportzline

Comments

Please Share Your Zip Code

To listen to 97.1 The Fan or ESPN 1460AM we ask that you provide a zip code so that we may give you the best audio connection possible.

Please enter your zip code:

No thanks