John Tortorella would never go public if he had any questions of how his Columbus Blue Jackets team feels mentally as it tries to bounce back after a postseason loss.
Even after Tuesday’s five-overtime defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“They’re fine,” he said, succinctly, on Wednesday.
They might be. But they also just played well over 100 minutes of NHL hockey only to find themselves on the wrong side of a 3-2 loss.
One way or another, Columbus needs to figure out a way to respond quickly ahead of Thursday’s second game of the seven-game series. Tortorella and a couple of his players addressed the media on Wednesday afternoon, hitting on a few pertinent topics.
There isn’t a magic formula of how to treat a body that just goes through a remarkably difficult physical activity, including a five-overtime NHL game.
“It's just the same kind of recovery; just more,” Boone Jenner said.
More sleep. More fluids. More foods.
“Obviously your body went through a little bit more, so making sure you're drinking and eating enough and getting your rest,” Jenner said. “It just amps up. I think it always does in the playoffs. There could be overtime games, back to back, whatever. You've just got to be ready for it that way.”
What helps the Blue Jackets, Nick Foligno theorized, is how Tortorella has a high standard for strength and conditioning based on how the team plays. It needs its players to be in shape, so the head coach puts players through a strenuous training camp that invariably gets them prepared for the season.
As Columbus looks forward, it’ll need to draw from the past.
“Our medical people are taking care of that,” Tortorella said. “We did have a practice scheduled today because it’s an afternoon game tomorrow and you'd like to move the blood a little bit before you play another game. But we canceled that. We'll have our 2 o'clock meeting where we have some tape. And then our medical people have been taking care of them all day long here, getting them ready for tomorrow.”
Follow Their Lead
Nobody in the NHL has spent as much time on the ice as Seth Jones did on Tuesday. Not since the league began tracking the statistic in the 1990s.
Jones played 65:06, which amounts to more than a full game of regulation hockey. Zach Werenski also crossed the 60-minute threshold, staying on the ice for 61:14.
Per Foligno, their stamina was a topic of conversation among players afterward.
“Just how easy they make it look even at those minutes, that's the incredible part,” Foligno said. “It just looks like Seth and Z can just skate forever. We're lucky to have those guys in our back end. When you look over and you see how they're not laboring, I think it actually helps your group. I think out of everyone, if they're not tired, then you're sure as hell not going to be tired as well. So I think morale-wise it was really good for us. Just unfortunately we didn't come out on the right side of it.”
Jones, who recorded an assist, six shots on goal, three hits, six blocks, six takeaways and four giveaways, didn’t even appear tired when talking only about 10 minutes after the game concluded in the post-game press conference. He said he felt “fine,” noting it was a mental hurdle for him rather than a physical battle.
“I think on this stage, people are finally beginning to see what we've seen for a number of years,” Tortorella said. “I don't think (Jones) gets enough credit for his willingness and how much he defends. He's just outstanding and the room that he takes and his willingness to defend, whereas I think some other players have talked about that put up offensive numbers and have a lot of ice time. I like to see someone who defends as hard as Seth Jones in this league.
“People are taking notice of him. Good for him. He deserves that.”
Have To Get The Offense Rolling
Joonas Korpisalo gave the Blue Jackets more than enough time to get something going offensively. He recorded 85 saves on Tuesday, the most by any goaltender in the modern era of the NHL, sending the game into five overtimes.
Yet, Columbus only managed two goals in five-and-a-half periods of hockey. The first came in the opening three minutes of the game, with Alexander Texier knocking a shot off of Pierre-Luc Dubois’ glove for the goal. A second puck reached the back of the net when Oliver Bjorkstrad sniped a shot from the boards that rattled in.
All of the other 61 shots got stopped by goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“We're always concerned about a lot of things,” Tortorella said. “The biggest thing we're looking for is where the shots are coming from.”
Looking ahead, Columbus can’t afford to have such a lengthy offensive dry spell. The Blue Jackets ranked among the worst NHL teams in terms of scoring goals during the regular season, which was on display on Tuesday.
Too often in Game 1, their offensive strategy was to dump the puck and chase. They’ll need to find ways to enter the zone with more freedom, thus giving them more clean chances. If they remain so inconsistent and inefficient, winning four of the next six games would be tough.
“We're a forechecking team, and we get a lot of our scoring chances off of that,” Foligno said. “I think we feel like we can play better. We know we can. That's the exciting part in going that many overtimes and not playing probably our best game and being able to come back with a real solid one against a good team. We know they're going to be better. We're going to be better. We're going to have to be better, and we're excited for the challenge as a forward group to help out our D a little more and do our job.”