Welcome to the stretch run of the lead-up.
The Columbus Blue Jackets opened training camp nearly two weeks ago, and now they only have a couple of days remaining until they leave for Toronto with a five-game series against the Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers awaiting them. As the start of the postseason nears, head coach John Tortorella offered the latest on his team.
Can’t Afford To “Wade Ourselves Into This”
Tortorella didn’t name any names. He didn’t call any players out.
But as he spoke on Thursday, it was clear that in his mind he had a couple of people swirling around. People who need to step up before the Blue Jackets take the ice in Toronto.
“I think we've just got to be really careful not to fall into the trap of thinking we can wade ourselves into this,” Tortorella said. “Each day is an important day. This isn't getting ready for the regular season and then trying to find your game in 15 games during the regular season. This is a sprint. I think some guys have been dead-on right from the start. Other guys, not so much. I think we're in single digits now as far as getting ready to play this game, and I don't want us to fall into the trap of wading in. We need to be ready to go.”
Throughout the first week of training camp, Tortorella appeared pleased with his group’s progress. He didn’t have any overriding grips.
However, Monday’s practice didn’t sit well with him, Tuesday’s intrasquad scrimmage could have been better – leading to him not speaking to the media afterward – and the Blue Jackets made it less than a minute into Thursday’s practice before Tortorella paused it to address his players.
“For the most part, I've liked what I've seen here,” Tortorella said. “It's just the two or three guys that are pretty important people, it's a concern of mine. If they do that type of stuff, the team concept as far as our neutral zone, our reloads, all the things we're teaching, I'm not sure we get total concentration out of some key people. That's what we're working to try to get.”
As he has harped on for the entirety of the past two weeks, Columbus can’t afford to come out with low energy in a five-game series. So, Tortorella is trying to address the potential issues before they would arise in Toronto.
“My concern is some of the people that are going to need to make a difference for us to win in a series, I don't think they're doing the things they need to do right now to get ready for that series,” he said.
Just A Bit Of Movement
Right now, Tortorella said, Columbus has only two forward lines and two defenseman pairings set. The rest remains up for grabs.
Most of the questions are centered around who’s on the ice together rather than who’s in or out of the lineup.
“I'm not settled, I'll tell you that. I'm not sure who's playing with who, both on D, both as goalies and forwards, too,” Tortorella said. “I'm not where everything else falls into play.”
Some of that uncertainty goes back to his point about needing a couple of players to step up in ways they simply haven’t since training camp opener.
“There's a couple of spots that I'm not sure who's in the lineup,” Tortorella said. “Not so much out of the lineup but as far as where you fit into the lineup. There's probably two or three spots that are still up for grabs as far as playing to be in the lineup. But a lot of it is as far as who's going to play with who.”
Not since March has Columbus played anybody wearing something other than Blue Jackets colors. All Tortorella has seen since then is less than two weeks’ worth of practice.
So, unsurprisingly, he and goaltending coach Manny Legace still don’t yet know who will be in the net – either Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo – when the Blue Jackets face the Maple Leafs on Aug. 2.
“I think we've got two really good goalies,” Tortorella said. “We still have to figure out who's going to start. I'll leave it at that. Those are the things that we're evaluating quite a bit with the goaltending is Manny's thoughts far as how they've progressed in practice and for the coaches that know nothing about goaltending is watching the scrimmages. We'll continue to do that as we continue to scrimmage.”
Solely based on goals allowed during intrasquad scrimmages, Merzlikins has an edge. Korpisalo has let in double-digit goals, including finding himself on the losing end of a 6-0 scrimmage earlier this week.
That, however, won’t be the lone deciding factor of who’ll start versus Toronto.
“We're certainly evaluating,” Tortorella said. “Scrimmage games are big for the goaltenders in evaluating. I mean, we're not thrilled with 13 goals, but it doesn't put you in a concern.”