New-Look Defense Pairs Remain Intact For the Blue Jackets Tonight in Washington

By Rob Mixer on November 9, 2018 at 2:59 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski moves the puck during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nationwide Arena.

Aaron Doster – USA TODAY Sports

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For a while, the Blue Jackets' defense had been their lone consistent element.

No matter what was going on – or, rather, what was going wrong – with their forwards, John Tortorella was able to rely on three semi-stable defense pairings each night. For much of this season (save Seth Jones' injury period), the Blue Jackets have paired Jones with Zach Werenski, Ryan Murray with Markus Nutivaara, and one of Scott Harrington or Dean Kukan with David Savard.

And, surprisingly, in one of their better games of the season (a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday) was when Tortorella decided to shuffle the deck.

In his defense – no pun intended – the top defense pairing was taking a beating early in that game, particularly from the Stars' top forwards. Jones and Werenski weren't able to get up the ice and most concerning is that they weren't winning the shot share battle, which is something we see from those two on almost a nightly basis.

Tortorella moved Murray up to play with Jones, and there's some familiarity there. When Jones arrived in Columbus back in January 2016, his first defense partner was Murray and those two had instant chemistry. Nutivaara then paired with Savard and Werenski with Kukan, balancing out the skill and minutes among the three pairings.

According to multiple reports from Thursday's practice, Scott Harrington may go into the Blue Jackets' lineup tonight in Washington. Those new-look defense pairs are going to get another, well, look.

The Blue Jackets, mind you, have a luxury on defense. Savard was technically a third-pairing guy but has proven capable of a top-four role, and Werenski is a top-pairing defenseman now kinda-sorta playing on the third pairing. Tortorella now has one of this best defensemen on each pairing, which might have been the idea in the first place.

With Werenski and Jones' struggles (Werenski in particular, Tortorella said), it was prudent to make that move early. And he'll keep them in the same alignment tonight.

"We were patient. We didn't give up a lot of odd-man rushes," Tortorella said of the overall defensive effort. "You never know, coming off that west coast trip, what you're going to get.

"I thought 'Z' was struggling. He was fighting the puck, he didn't look confident with the puck. I just felt it early on for him. I liked what (the new pairings) looked like."

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