Friday, 23 October 2015

Welcome Back, John

It just feels right, doesn't it? The NHL needs more personalities, and none better than John Tortorella is back in the league thanks to a brutal start to the season by the Columbus Blue Jackets that cost head coach Todd Richards his job after an 0-7 start. Sure, Tortorella didn't bring a win last night against the Minnesota Wild, but having him back behind an NHL bench means there's a greater chance for a Tortorella rant at some point. Or an encounter with Larry Brooks. Or an epic moment of insanity where he loses his temper and does something hilarious. Yes, I'm happy that John Tortorella is back in the NHL.

I won't give him a free pass with the Jackets, though. This Jackets team is in a serious funk and they seem unable to shake it. Individually, there is spades of talent on this roster, but they seem to collectively be missing unity, confidence, and a willingness to do the dirty work to score goals. Tortorella will demand a better work ethic, but he can't force the unwilling and the Blue Jackets simply looking like they are unwilling to take a bruise to earn a win.

"There was 11 or 12 minutes in the second period where I thought we lost momentum, but I thought we played hard," Tortorella said to reporters following Thursday night's loss to Minnesota. "That's a team that defends well. You have to get through a number of layers just to try to get pucks to the net. But there was a lot of good things that went on with our club here. But we're 0-8. Moral victories are not going to help us right now."

You have to think that with the additions and improvements that the Jackets made over the past year that the expectations in terms of bringing Tortorella in are the playoffs, and nothing short of that will suffice for ownership. They threw big money at a number of players including Brandon Saad and Nick Foligno, and there's an expectation that comes along with that money. Adding in John Tortorella only pushes those expectations to the forefront for this squad.

You have to wonder what is going on in that locker room after the Blue Jackets became the first team since the 1943-44 New York Rangers to open a season with eight-straight losses. Sergei Bobrovsky has gone on record stating that he "zero confidence" in himself right now, and there's an old adage that if you show someone a great coach, you'll also find a great goalie. With the Blue Jackets not getting anything close to quality goaltending, especially from a player who has turned in incredible performances in his career, Tortorella will need to play therapist with his starting netminder if this sinking ship is looking to bail water.

There will also be accountability demanded by Tortorella from his forwards as the problem thus far in this season is keeping the puck out of their own net. Brandon Dubinsky, who played for Tortorella as a member of the New York Rangers, should know what his coach demands of his forwards in terms of a hard back-check and cutting off lanes, so you'd expect this style of play to spread quickly. As we saw against Minnesota, Tortorella wasn't afraid to sit Ryan Johansen for the majority of the third period when the Jackets needed a goal, so accountability will be at an all-time high in Columbus.

The other thing that Tortorella won't stand for is the undisciplined play that Columbus has shown thus far. Lazy penalties will certainly draw the ire of the 57 year-old coach, and we've seen him stare down players who have shown mental lapses in the past. Columbus needs to skate, as that's a trait of a Tortorella-coached team, and they need to be engaged at all times. If they work hard and skate hard, Tortorella's system is usually successful as long as players don't start tuning him out.

He has vowed to listen more and be more receptive, so this version of Tortorella is a work in progress much like the team he's taking over. They face the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday and will have a chance to break the oh-and-eight funk against a team who also seems to have stumbled somewhat out of the gate. You know Tortorella will have his team ready to work on Saturday, and, as the old adage reads, the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary, so expect a different Columbus Blue Jackets team on Saturday night.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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