Blue Jackets mull swath of lineup changes amid challenging road trip

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Blue Jackets center Alexandre Texier scores an empty-net goal against Detroit on Nov. 15.
Blue Jackets center Alexandre Texier scores an empty-net goal against Detroit on Nov. 15.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Heading into a Tuesday's game against the Nashville Predators, the Blue Jackets knew significant lineup changes were likely coming.

Despite playing coy about it with reporters, coach Brad Larsen and his staff mulled a set of sweeping tweaks before the puck dropped at Bridgestone Arena. Based off Monday's practice, all four lines and all three defensive pairings were in line for tweaks following a humbling 6-3 loss Saturday in St. Louis.

“I just wanted to see it in practice,” Larsen said, without confirming whether the practice changes would stick against the Predators. “I wanted to take a look at it with some 5-on-5 drills.”

That evaluation period stretched into pregame warmups, when Larsen said his forward combinations and defensive pairings would be determined. While the need for lineup subterfuge can be debated this early, what's clear is the Blue Jackets' coaching staff feels a shakeup might be necessary.

That's notable because the season has reached its quarter point and the Jackets had maintained a good amount of lineup consistency in the first 19 games.

Larsen did confirm Justin Danforth would replace Gregory Hofmann against the Predators and said Elvis Merzlikins would return to the net, but other changes were expected, including Alexandre Texier moving to a new line higher in the rotation and defenseman Adam Boqvist working with Zach Werenski on the top defense pairing.

Texier got off to a slow start while centering the top line and then got a spark from playing right wing on a hard-working checking line centered by Sean Kuraly. His skill with the puck has started to show more often, along with an increased intensity in puck battles, so it felt like a matter of time before he re-entered the conversation for a role on a new line.

Other changes up front included Oliver Bjorkstrand flipping to the left wing on the top line with Boone Jenner and right wing Jakub Voracek, plus rookie Yegor Chinakhov moving onto a line with Jack Roslovic and Max Domi.

On the back end, Boqvist moving up to play with Werenski was less surprising. They’ve had success recently on the top power-play group and finished the game Saturday as defense partners. Boqvist had a career-high three points in that game, including his third and fourth goals in just 12 games.

"It was a short sample size," Larsen said. "A lot of times, the offensive guys ... they feed off the power play. They get rolling, and, especially early in games, you get one and it helps their game 5-on-5 too.”

Other defensive tweaks included Jake Bean moving from the top pairing to the second to play with Vladislav Gavrikov and Andrew Peeke heading back to the third pairing with Gavin Bayreuther.

Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen content with Max Domi on the wing

Domi has extensive experience at center, but Larsen is content with the 26-year old forward in a winger role.

Domi is a fast skater and deft puck-handler, traits consistent with success at center, but there are no vacancies down the middle of the Blue Jackets’ lineup with Jenner, Sillinger, Kuraly and Jack Roslovic handling those roles.

"I think guys like the middle of the ice because you can get going (fast) and you can keep your momentum going, and I understand that, but he’s an explosive player," Larsen said. "So, I think putting him on his off wing or on his strong side, he’s got great legs and when he’s feeling it, he can get up and down the ice real quick.”

Domi said he doesn't have a preference.

“Offensively, I have a lot more energy as a winger, because you don’t have to defend as much, but they’re both great,” he said. “All three (forward positions) are fine.”

Blue Jackets forward Max Domi not concerned with free agency

Domi has a lot of motivation, including his contract status.

If he doesn’t agree to an extension with the Blue Jackets, he will become an unrestricted free agent in July at an age when many players hope to land a large money, long-term deal on the open market. Domi struggled to reach his peak form last season, after a drop in production with Montreal before the trade, so he knows a big rebound year could lead to better offers in the summer — not to mention a trade before the deadline in March if the Blue Jackets aren’t in the playoff chase.

“It’s on your mind, of course, but it’s just part of the game,” Domi said. “I know it’s cliché, but I’m just trying to focus on ‘day-by-day' and let the rest take care of itself.”

Prosecutor’s office still undecided on probe into Matiss Kivlenieks' death

Nearly five months after obtaining a police report about the death of Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks in a July 4 fireworks incident, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald’s office is still undecided about whether to file criminal charges in the case.

The Dispatch inquired about the case Monday and was told there were no updates.

Kivlenieks was killed when he was struck in the chest by a three-inch diameter fireworks mortar shell fired from a tube that that tipped toward his location in a hot tub at the home of Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace.

Novi police conducted the initial investigation and did not request criminal charges after ruling the death a tragic accident. The report from that investigation was sent to McDonald’s office July 12 and has yet to be made public while the case remains unresolved.


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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus Blue jackets consider jostling lineup