The crawl toward the NHL’s return continued in Columbus on Wednesday.
With the Blue Jackets’ series against the Toronto Maple Leafs two-and-a-half weeks away, head coach John Tortorella led his team through its third practice of training camp. Scrimmages are on the horizon, and an exhibition with the Boston Bruins will be held in 15 days.
Here are three of the most important things to know from this afternoon’s post-practice interviews.
No Time For Long Leashes
For all the preparation Columbus is doing ahead of its series with the Maple Leafs, it could all be over in three games. All of it.
This isn’t a best-of-seven series that most NHL coaches and players are used to. It’ll be a best-of-five series for the right to get into the playoffs. Naturally, it requires a bit of a different approach. Patience won’t be a virtue.
“It's a very tricky series because you can't allow it to get away from you,” Tortorella said. “You can't allow many things to get away from you for too long or you're done.”
If someone’s struggling, whether it be one of the goalies – Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo – or another player entirely, Tortorella might not be able to wait to take action. He hinted at a shorter leash than usual on Wednesday.
“There's going to be some quick decisions made,” Tortorella said. “There's going to be some ice time laid onto people that we may have may of our trust than some other guys in certain other situations. We're going to lay it out there because it changes really quickly. You lose the first one, you are behind the eight-ball right away in a best-of-five.”
He ended the comments by saying, “I think you understand where I'm going with that.” Yes, yes we do.
“I really don't give a shit”
Tortorella decided to give the Stanley Cup Qualifiers a title on Wednesday: “I think it's going to be a tournament of distractions or changes or circumstances that may change.”
Every day this week, Tortorella has taken a bunker mentality. He fully understands how weird and uncomfortable some aspects of the Blue Jackets’ chase for the Cup will be, but he doesn’t care. He knows his team will get throw some unforeseen curveballs, but he wants his players to figure out how to prepare to hit them out of the park anyway.
So when asked how much he thinks fans will able to hear the on-ice noise and chatter through their televisions, he didn’t have to do much thinking to come up with a direct answer.
“I really don't give a shit, quite honestly,” Tortorella said.
Simple enough. Not much room for interpretation.
“I'll put it to you that way,” Tortorella said. “I'm not even thinking about it. I really like that it's one of those, as I've talked to you about, one of many distractions or things going on differently that we have to handle. It's not going to change how I coach. I think the players, as far as once they get into it, I'm sure there's going to be a little bit of an, ‘Oh, this is really different,’ at first. But I think once we get going, I think it's going to be business as usual.”
Taking It Easy
Quite literally every single day since training camp opened on Monday, Tortorella has spoken about the need to listen to his players and, simultaneously, have his players keep the coaches in check. In such an unconventional lead-up to a resumption in play, he believes that’s important to maximizing production in the upcoming five-game series with Toronto.
Well, maybe that’s what he thought until Wednesday.
Before the mid-week practice, he spoke to his players about how they were feeling and how hard he should push them. They told him to go as hard as possible.
“They're always looking for more,” Tortorella said. “That's just the way our athletes are built.”
Tortorella then turned to director of high performance Nelson Ayotte and strength and conditioning coach Kevin Collins to hear their thoughts. That “really good conversation” left Tortorella with the thought that after pushing his team hard the first two days and making them do post-practice conditioning, he’d go a bit lighter on Wednesday.
“We just had a good 30-minute practice and just let up on both ends, just did a little skill work,” Tortorella said. “So we left them alone as far as pushing them, as far as conditioning, as the numbers told us we should.”
So, what’s next?
“Now we'll get into the next phase of our camp into where we're going to start getting into some scrimmaging and special teams and all that,” Tortorella said. “We had a ton of puck touches, and that's what I wanted in this first three days. I wanted pace and puck touches. I think we accomplished that. Now we're going to get into a little bit of the grind and the body work and scrimmaging and start working on our special teams.”