Within a week, the Blue Jackets are expected to be settling into their Toronto hotels as they prepare for their five-game series with the Maple Leafs to begin on Aug. 2.
Until then, however, they’re still training on an almost-every-day basis in Columbus. John Tortorella’s squad wrapped up its seventh practice of camp on Monday, giving him and two of his players a chance to speak with the local media to discuss how they’re approaching the postseason. Here are three things to know from the day.
Time For A Simulated Game
Tortorella deviated from the schedule a couple of times in the first week of training camp, but practices were around the same time in the late morning every day.
On Tuesday, that will change.
He plans to welcome the team to the arena around the same time in the morning. But instead of going through a practice, everybody will take a coronavirus test, watch some video, then head home. Later that night, they’ll return for a 7 p.m. game at the OhioHealth Ice Haus. He even canceled the scheduled Tuesday morning workout because he wanted everybody to be as fresh as possible for the game-like situation.
“They haven't played in the evening at all in four and a half months,” Tortorella said. “They haven't gone through a gameday situation in a number of months.”
The Blue Jackets have taken part in multiple scrimmages, though they haven’t yet played a game at night.
“We'll just let them get here and warm up. I just want them to play in the evening,” Tortorella said. “They'll put the uniform on, the game jerseys. I just wanted to simulate more of a game. We can't bring refs in and all of that stuff because of just how we have to close this down. We're going to try to play a game.”
One of the intrasquad scrimmages took place on Monday afternoon, and it wasn’t particularly competitive.
A team consisting of forwards Cam Atkinson, Emil Bemstrom, Nathan Gerbe, Boone Jenner, Gus Nyquist, Kevin Stenlund, Eric Robinson and Alexander Wennberg, defensemen Gabriel Carlsson, Adam Clendening, Scott Harrington, Seth Jones, Andrew Peeke and Zach Werenski and goaltender Elvis Merzlikins won the scrimmage, 6-0. The losing team featured forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Liam Foudy, Ryan MacInnis, Stefan Matteau, Riley Nash, Kole Sherwood, Devin Shore and Alexandre Texier, defensemen Vladislav Gavrikov, Dean Kukan, Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara and David Savard and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.
“I hope the game is better than it was today because I thought today's game sucked, although one team beat another team, 6-0,” Tortorella said. “That team might say something different. I just didn't like our energy level at all today.”
Tortorella has been around long enough to see just about everything, including what happens with players in the postseason.
“This is an added pressure,” Tortorella said. “Some guys just want it, and they revel in it. Other guys shrink. So I've been surprised both ways.”
Columbus has a slew of players – suiting up on one of the youngest teams in the NHL – ready for their first major postseason action. To Tortorella, this will matter as much as anything else they do in their careers.
“This is your legacy is as a player,” Tortorella said. “This is what you're remembered for when your career is over. Not the regular season stuff. It's how you handle yourself in the atmosphere of playoffs. This is a little bit different. There's no fans. I'm not sure exactly how it's going to play out. But it's still playoff hockey. Although we're still in the play-in round, we have to consider that playoffs for us. So I always find it interesting whether the guys stand tall or you just can't find guys in this situation.
“It happens. It happens with really good regular season players that are no-shows in the playoffs because it's just a little bit too much for them. So it's always a curiosity of mine to see how players stand in here when we start playing these things.”
Feeling Healthy Again
In the calendar year of 2020, Alexandre Texier has not played an NHL game.
The forward’s last action as a Blue Jacket came in under three minutes on the ice during his team’s 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 31. Two days later, he was placed on the injured reserve with a lumbar stress fracture, which kept him out of action until play was suspended in March.
At the time, Texier says he didn’t realize how long it would take him to get back to full health, but he’s arrived at that point.
“Right now, I'm healthy. I feel good,” Texier said. “That was a tough time for me. Right now, I think I'm stronger mentally and I feel good physically.”
At just 20 years old, Texier is one of the many youngsters Columbus will have to rely on in the postseason. Tortorella had him on Monday playing on a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand, but he noted their performance together that day was “brutal” and that the lines aren’t yet set. He still has a couple of weeks to make final decisions.
With Texier again at his disposal, especially after he got a taste of the playoffs last year, Tortorella wants to be able to rely on him.
“With Tex, you have to be careful,” Tortorella said. “The way he presents himself, you wouldn't think he was that young. He is all business. If we're going to have an opportunity to be successful, he needs to be a big part of this as we head to the bubble.”